Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Laut verkünde unsre Freude, K623 (1791) [12:28]
Die ihr des unermesslichen Weltalls, K619 (1791) [6:41]
Der Maurerfreude. K471 (1785) [6:27]
Lied zur Gesellenreise, K468 (1785) [3:12]
Lobgesang auf die feierliche Johannisloge, K148 (1772?) [4:57]
Thamos, König in Ägypten, K345 (1779) [19:35]
Dir, Seele des Weltalls, K468a (1785) [9:35]
Ihr unsre neuen Leiter, K484 (1786) [3:08]
Zerfliesset heut', geliebte Brüder, K483 (1786) [2:04]
Meistermusic (Maurerische Trauermusik), K477 (1785) [4:10]
John Heuzenroder (tenor), Mario Borgioni (bass),
Alexander Puliaev (fortepiano), Willi Koronenberg (organ)
Kölner Akademie Choir and Orchestra/Michael Alexander Willens
rec. 2016, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Cologne
BIS BIS-2294 SACD [73:52]
During the eighteenth century, freemasonry developed throughout Europe, its membership coming from the full range of society above the peasantry. The movement was essentially a reaction against political extremism in the form of religious intolerance and the excesses of absolute monarchs, and as such was wholly in accord with Mozart's view of the world. The priorities of masonic lodges were social conviviality and charity, using formal rituals which derived from the old medieval guilds.
By the time he arrived in the city, Mozart was well aware of the nature of Viennese masonic activity, and it was always his clear intention to enrol in one of the lodges there. In November 1784, he finally sent his letter of candidature to Zur Wohlthätigkeit (Beneficence), into which he was admitted the following month. The following year he also became involved with other lodges, in particular Zur wahren Eintracht (True Concord), of which he became a Master, and which, at his invitation, Haydn also joined. When Leopold Mozart visited Vienna, he too was admitted into Zur Wohlthätigkeit.
Many of Mozart's compositions show masonic influences, and several were written for specifically masonic occasions, as gathered here on this well-recorded BIS SACD. The most common type of masonic composition was the choral cantata; for example, in 1785 Mozart wrote Die Maurerfreude, K471, in honour of Ignaz von Born, the Worshipful Master of Zur wahren Eintracht. Six years later von Born was the model Mozart used for the character of Sarastro, the enlightened and visionary leader, in his opera Die Zauberflöte.
Although freemasons had been prominent supporters of his reforms, during the later 1780s the Emperor Joseph became increasingly suspicious of their activities. He placed curbs upon the lodges, whose members were forced to register with the police. Such restrictions inevitably discouraged some, though not Mozart, who remained loyal through to the end of his life. In fact, his last completed composition was the cantata Eine kleine Freimaurerkantate, Laut verkünde unsre Freude, K623, which was first performed on 18th November 1791, at the inauguration of the new premises of the lodge Zur gekrönten Hoffnung (Crowned Hope).
A collection of Mozart's Masonic compositions played on 'original instruments' is therefore a thoroughly laudable idea. That Michael Alexander Willens and the Kölner Akademia have impeccable Mozartean credentials is known through their 11-disc cycle of piano concertos with Ronald Brautigam, as well as their splendid recordings of the Posthorn Serenade and Eine kleine Nachtmusik: indeed, MusicWeb-International described them as demonstrating 'once again that they are amongst the best groups in the world of period performance’.
The orchestra is joined by the tenor John Heuzenroder and the Mario Borgioni, along with their own chorus, to perform these Masonic compositions, some of them major works, others just short items in the nature of songs. The accompanying documentation is thorough and very helpful in positioning the music in relation to the composer's life and career. At first glance the oddity seems to be the song Lobgesang auf die feierliche Johannisloge, K148, and in his excellent booklet essay John Irving admits that some scholars date this as late as 1784, rather than more than a decade earlier.
While much of this Masonic music is relatively little known, the four orchestral interludes from the play Thamos, Königin Ägypten have been more frequently performed during recent years. They are splendidly dramatic, and as such rank among the best music Mozart wrote in the years immediately before he settled in Vienna after 1781. The decision to include them here is easily justified, since the poet of King Thamos, Tobias von Gebler, was a committed freemason, while Mozart's music has resonances with The Magic Flute.
As usual the BIS SACD sound contributes hugely to the appeal of this new issue, and if the repertoire collected here is thorough and representative of an important aspect of Mozart's life, there is one regret. The Maurerische Trauermusik, K477, is the best known among the Masonic compositions, and exists in at least three different versions. The version included here was published in 1985 under the heading Meistermusik, and was arranged by the musicologist Philippe Autexier, in an attempt to recreate the version performed two hundred years previously, on 12th August 1785 on the occasion of the ceremony celebrating the elevation of Carl von König to the rank of Master.
In the later version of November 1785, the score lost its vocal parts and became known as the Masonic Funeral Music because of its function as a memorial to two distinguished deceased members of the Lodge, and it is this version which has become widely known, recorded for example by Otto Klemperer and Karl Böhm. Given the excellence of the other performances gathered here, it seems a pity that (given the work's duration of just five minutes) it was not included by Willens and his orchestra.