Mozart – Die Zauberflöte Overture [analysis]

Last updated Jan 30, 2024 | Published on Apr 15, 2021

Winner of a fellowship at the Bayreuther Festspiele, Mr. Griglio’s conducting has been praised for his “energy” and “fine details”. Mr. Griglio took part in the first world recording of music by composer Irwin Bazelon and conducted several world premieres like "The song of Eddie", by Harold Farberman, a candidate for the Pulitzer Prize. Principal Conductor of International Opera Theater Philadelphia for four years, Mr.Griglio is also active as a composer. His first opera, Camille Claudel, debuted in 2013 to a great success of audience and critics. Mr. Griglio is presently working on an opera on Caravaggio and Music Director of Opera Odyssey.

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Undoubtedly one of the most beloved operas of all times, Die Zauberflöte The Magic Flute – was the product of a collaboration between Mozart and Emanuel Schikaneder. Schikaneder was an impresario, a dramatist, an actor, a singer, and a composer. But above all, in this context, he was, to Mozart, a fellow mason.

It’s no secret that at the time – we are in 1791 – Mozart was not doing too well financially. He had not been for some time actually: being a freelance was not easy back then as it is not today. Being the first freelance must have been even worse.

Schikaneder brought in a much-needed commission for a new fairy tale opera for his theater, the Theater auf der Wieden. The premiere took place on September 30, 1791, just a couple of months short of Mozart’s death.

The opera feeds on the fascination for the exotic, and for Egypt in particular. That’s the main connection to freemasonry, which inherited a large part of its symbolism and rituals from ancient Egyptian culture.

Just think about the sun, the oldest of the divinities, pure light, and reason in the form of Osiris. Or Isis, the personification of air and earth, mother of all things, queen of that lunar material in which we witness the succession of day and night, of life and death.

Emanuel Schikaneder as the first Papageno in Mozarts Die Zauberflöte. Front page of the original edition of the libretto of the Zauberflöte.

Modern masonry appropriated these allegories in its own rituals, like the initiation of a new member. The challenge connected to the 4 elements, which we can find in the Magic Flute, had been detailed already in the Life of Sethos, Taken from Private Memoirs of the Ancient Egyptians published in six volumes in Paris in 1731 by the French abbé Jean Terrasson.

Those who sat in the theater during the premiere must have noticed the drawing decorating the first page of the libretto. A drawing by Ignaz Alberti, editor of the libretto and a mason “brother” of Mozart. To many, it might have seemed a simple representation of an archeological site in Egypt. But the allusions to masonry were not lost to some: the path from dark to light, the star in the middle, a trowel in the front.

There are plenty of books on the subject. One that I find particularly interesting is Mozart the Mason by Anna Manfredini, published by Lo Scarabeo Libri, 1991.


Should you need a score you can find one here.

Structure-wise we have a sonata form with a slow introduction followed by an Allegro divided into the canonical sections of exposition, development, recapitulation, and coda. There are a couple of “deviations” from the standard sonata form structure which we’ll see later.

The masonry connection is evident right from the overture: the number 3 – recurring throughout the rituals and the characters – appears right in the key of Eb. And in the repetition of the 3 initial chords. This whole introduction is regal, paced but not heavy despite the constant presence of the trombones. Nothing like the drama we witnessed in the overture of Don Giovanni.

Mozart - Magic Flute Ouverture analysis - ex.1

We then proceed in steps, in our initiation journey that will take us from darkness to the light: two bars plus two bars a step higher. Two bars of up and down – and notice the harmonic subtlety in bars 10-11 with that Gb and A natural. And four bars to bridge to the Allegro. Notice the syncopation in the trombones

Mozart - Magic Flute Ouverture analysis - ex.2
Mozart - Magic Flute Ouverture analysis - ex.3
Mozart - Magic Flute Ouverture analysis - ex.4

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Cover image by Lucas Craig from Pexels

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Gianmaria Griglio is an intelligent, exceptional musician. There is no question about his conducting abilities: he has exceptionally clear baton technique that allows him to articulate whatever decisions he has made about the music.

Harold Farberman

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