Mozart's Key to Happiness

By Ida Postma

On the 22nd of April I787 a son wrote his father:

I have this moment heard tidings which distress me exceedingly, and the more so that your last letter led me to suppose you were so well; but I now hear you are really ill. I need not say how anxiously I shall long for a better report of you to comfort me, and I do hope to receive it, though I am always prone to anticipate the worst. As death (when closely considered) is the true goal of our life, I have made myself so thoroughly acquainted with this good and faithful friend of man, that not only has its image no longer anything alarming to me, but rather something most peaceful and consolatory; and I thank my heavenly Father that He has vouchsafed to grant me the happiness, and has given me the opportunity, (you understand me,) to learn that it is the key to our true felicity. I never lie down at night without thinking that (young as I am) I may be no more before the next morning dawns. And yet not one of all those who know me can say that I ever was morose or melancholy in my intercourse with them. I daily thank my Creator for such a happy frame of mind, and wish from my heart that every one of my fellow-creatures may enjoy the same. — The Letters of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, translated, from the collection of Ludwig Nohl, by Lady Wallace, Boston, 1864, pp. 221-2

The writer of the letter was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. As he was then a young man of 31, at the apex of his career, happily married, and full of joie de vivre, later generations have been puzzled by these intimate revelations to his father. That his philosophic attitude did not render him immune to keen feelings of loss is apparent from the following lines to his friend Gottfried von Jacquin on May 28 of the same year: "I must inform you that on my return home today I received the mournful tidings of the death of my excellent father. You may conceive the state I am in." Some biographers have ascribed to Mozart a morbid preoccupation with death; however, his own statements that he was never "morose or melancholy" but enjoyed "a happy frame of mind" certainly speak against that. For an explanation of his viewpoint we should perhaps rather take a hint from the Roman orator and statesman Cicero. During his lifetime in the last century BC, the Mediterranean Mystery Schools were in a state of serious decline, but nevertheless he derived such enlightenment from his initiations that he wrote in his Laws (II, 14, 36): "We have learned from [these rites] the beginnings of life, and have gained the power not only to live happily, but also to die with better hope."

In the message to his father, Mozart used guarded terms, but his phrases that death is "the key to our true felicity" and "the true goal of our life" — which he knew Leopold would instantly place in their right context — clearly refer to what he had learned in the halls of Freemasonry. Little evidence is left of this, because every piece of correspondence containing an exchange of this nature with his fellow Freemasons was destroyed. Perhaps because the allusions were so subtle his letter on death apparently slipped through.

As a subject of the Austrian Empire of that era, Mozart had been born into the Catholic faith. Judging by the facts, however, he must have been exposed to Masonic influences from an early age. For instance, a German operetta "Bastien und Bastienne," composed when he was twelve, was performed in the gardens of Dr. Anton Mesmer, a Freemason, best known as the originator of the concept of "animal magnetism." In I772 Mozart wrote an aria on a Masonic hymn. On his journey to France in I778 he carried a letter of recommendation from an Austrian Freemason to the lodges in Paris. Freemasons were among his family members, colleagues, and friends. It must have been a rather natural development, therefore, when he himself entered on December 14, 1784. His rapid progress testifies to his fervor, for already on March 26, 1785 he was initiated as a Fellow, and on April 22 of the same year as a Master. Moreover, he "converted" his father, as well as the composer Haydn. For the rest of his short life, however, Mozart remained a Catholic, although in later years maybe more in name than in spirit. Unlike in some other European countries, in Austria the Papal bull of 1738 against Freemasonry had never been promulgated by the government, so that anyone could adhere to both streams of thought at the same time. Consequently, Freemasonry proliferated in Austria, there being sixty-six lodges in 1784.

The lodge "Zur Wohltätigkeit" (Charity) into which Mozart was received, like most lodges in Vienna at that time, followed the Rite of Strict Observance. This had been introduced in 1754 by Baron Carl Gothelff von Hund und Altengrottkau, who claimed its roots went back to the Templars, an Order of Knights established during the Crusades. It was not uncommon for European secret societies of that period to assume such legendary origins. Actually it meant no more (and no less) than that they considered themselves in a spiritual sense the heirs of the ancient Mystery Schools and also of medieval alchemy and the hermetic traditions. Their sphere of interest was a mixture of alchemical experimentation, metaphysical teachings, and social conviviality. Under the system of the Strict Observance, Mozart could perhaps have advanced into the higher degrees that would have conferred more knowledge, but there is no evidence that he did. However, even as a Master, it is likely that this musical genius, whose works are still enriching and uplifting our own lives, knew of the cosmologies as conceived by the ancients and of the innate divinity of man — man, who nevertheless must tread the seemingly endless roadways of life and death before he can reunite with the Source.

The Greek Mysteries emphasized death as the basis on which all life evolves — dying being but a transmutation that allows the essence to be reborn in a higher form. This was the truth within the allegory of the grain perishing in the earth in order that the wheat might grow. Mozart presents this concept in his opera The Magic Flute. This work has frequently been considered an incongruous though not incompatible marriage of superb music to a somewhat absurd text. In reality the libretto was extensively discussed by the composer with Baron Ignaz von Born, a student of many years of Masonic symbolism and an acknowledged authority on the subject among the Freemasons of Vienna. The opera, therefore, if fantastic on the surface, has a deep symbolic meaning. No doubt inspired by Mozart's own experiences during initiation, the motif of The Magic Flute is that of the aspirant who prepares himself and, found worthy, undergoes a series of trials by earth, air, fire, and water. He must suffer cruelly and die in his personality, but with fortitude and a will to overcome he is reborn into a greater illumination. From Masonic ritual Mozart must also have learned to prepare himself for that initiation awaiting all of us at the end of a lifetime, and which often fills with fear and gloom those not so privileged to "learn" as he was.

Mozart's death has been surrounded with an aura of suspicion. His own words "I feel I cannot last long; no doubt someone has given me poison," must have fed rumors that he had met with an unnatural end. Yet his decline could simply have been caused by the severe stress he endured due to his wife's ill health, a nagging lack of money, and being out of favor at court. Moreover, the burden of being an infant prodigy and the constant outpour of creative energy may have taken their accumulated toll in exhaustion. The Magic Flute, begun as a labor of love to bolster the finances of his fellow Mason Emanuel Schikaneder, dates from the last year of Mozart's life. Around that time also, already filled with presentiments of impending death, he was approached by a tall messenger, dressed in somber grey, with the request to write a mass for the dead. The high personage who gave the commission remained anonymous. As became evident later, there was a logical explanation for all the mystery, but in his sensitive state Mozart saw in the dark figure an emissary of Death and was convinced he was writing the Requiem for himself. In a losing race against time he worked with feverish concentration. Opera and mass still occupied him intensely on his deathbed, and their melodious strains accompanied him on that pathway with which he had already made himself familiar years before. Straitened circumstances consigned his body to an unknown grave — a fact widely lamented. What, in reality, could have been more fitting? For thus veneration of material remains could never detract one iota from his musical heritage, rich and unique, that points so clearly to the eternal spirit.


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(Reprinted from Sunrise magazine, November 1980. Copyright © 1980 by Theosophical University Press)


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