Mozart: Masonic Works

Cantatas and Funeral Music
John Heuzenroeder tenor, Die Kölner Akademie choir & orchestra, Michael Alexander Willens
K148, 345, 468, 468a, 471, 477, 483, 484, 619 & 623

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] fear the temptation to emulate today’s headline writers and describe a CD of Mozart’s Masonic music as ‘chippings off the master’s block’ is too great to overcome, so I can only apologise. In fact, while all nine works that fall into category were composed with a functional purpose, not all of them are as insignificant as that might imply.
Masonry, at one time frowned upon in Austria, became hugely popular in the 1780s during the reign of the more tolerant Joseph II. Mozart became an initiate at the end of 1784, being followed by Haydn the following February. Anyone interested in Mozart’s Masonic activities is directed to H. C. Robbins Landon’s detailed survey in 1791: Mozart’s Last Year  (1988); suffice it to say here that he evidently took his membership seriously, composing music for a variety of occasions. The most famous of these is the brief, but powerful, intense work known as the Mauerische Trauermusik, K 477 (Masonic Funeral Music), usually heard in an orchestral version with the plangent tones of three basset horns dominating the texture. Here, for the first time so far as I’m aware, it is heard in a conjectural original version (by the musicologist Philippe Autexier) with the Gregorian chant (from the Lamentations of Jeremiah) introduced in the central section given to a male chorus. Although not listed in this way in Mozart’s own thematic catalogue – nor is the version with three basset horns – his listing contains enough anomalies to at least make the proposition feasible. More importantly for the listener to the present CD, it is highly effective, the desolate text adding to the work’s sombre potency.

Two other pieces stand out. One is the celebratory cantata, Laut verkünde unsre Freude, K 623, written for the inauguration of a new temple and Mozart’s last completed work, music that not surprisingly has a strong relationship with Die Zauberflöte, completed two months earlier. Like the earlier cantata, Dir Seele des Weltalls, K429, which includes a charming aria welcoming the arrival of spring, K 623 is scored for tenor, chorus and orchestra, although the latter also includes a duet with a bass soloist (the excellent Mario Borgioni). The remaining pieces are slighter strophic songs for tenor with alternating choral verses or refrains, accompanied by piano or organ. Perhaps the most interesting is Lied zur Gesellenreise, K 468, which concerns the journey toward knowledge and may have been composed for the elevation of Mozart’s father Leopold to a new level in the Masonic hierarchy in March 1785.

In addition to the Masonic music, the CD also includes the interludes to Gebler’s play Thamos, König in Ägyptien, the incidental music from which (including choruses) Mozart worked on over a period of time. While not directly connected with Masonry, the plot concerning overcoming the challenges of life is certainly Masonic in spirit. The interludes were among the last pieces Mozart composed (in the late 1770s) for the play, alternating music of lyrical sensitivity with passages of highly dramatic, powerful orchestration that point towards Idomeneo.

The performances of all this music are outstanding, the Australian tenor John Heuzenroeder being the possessor of an exceptionally agreeable lyric tenor capable not only of an easy fluidity in cantabile passages, but also of making dramatic points in declamatory recitative. Michael Alexander Willens draws excellent, idiomatic playing from the period instrument Die Kölner Akademie, of which he is music director. All in all, this is an excellent CD that explores some of the lesser known contents of the Mozartian treasure chest.

Brian Robins

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