The mysterious fraternal organization known as Freemasonry can trace its origins all the way back to the Middle Ages. But its roots took hold sometime at the end of the 16th Century with the organization of the first Masonic lodges. (Lodges are basic structures within Freemasonry and can be simply described as a meeting of a group of Masons.)
It wasn’t until the early 18th Century that Freemasonry was reorganized into larger more distinct units whose presence spread across Europe.
Many famous and influential figures from the 18th Century were Masons—musicians included. Among the handful of 18th-century composers who are known Freemasons is Joseph Haydn, who was inducted into the Lodge “Zur wahren Eintracht,” or “True Concord,” in February of 1785.
Little is known about Haydn’s participation and interest in the Viennese Lodge that he was a member of. Scholars believe it was minimal at best. The only known composition that he wrote for a Masonic lodge was not for one in Vienna, but in Paris.
In 1786, Haydn received a lucrative commission to write six symphonies that were subsequently performed at the Parisian “Concert de la Loge Olympique.” In the tradition of many a Haydn symphony, three of the six Paris symphonies received nicknames such as the “the hen,” the queen,” and “the bear.”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
In the same month that Haydn applied for membership to a Lodge, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was inducted into Freemasonry. On December 14, 1784, Mozart became a member of Lodge “Zur Wohltätigkeit,” or “Beneficence.” Unlike Haydn, Mozart was an active member of the Freemasons and wrote a number of works for them, including one entitled “Masonic Funeral Music,” which employed Masonic symbolism.
He also composed pieces for his musician friends who were also Masons such as the clarinetist Anton Stadler. Both the Clarinet Concerto and Clarinet Quintet were written for Stadler.
Arguably the most talked-about composition of Mozart’s to honor the Freemasons in its use of symbolism is the opera “The Magic Flute,” which incorporates the number three, a particularly important number in Masonic symbology. The use of the number three and other symbols are found in the overture as well as the “March of the Priests” and the aria “O Isis und Osiris.”
Our new release of the week is a program of J.S. Bach’s complete sonatas for viola da gamba. Baroque cellist Audrey Ciennwa and harpsichordist Paul Ciennwa appear in their debut release on the Whaling City Sound label.