Mercury Orchestra


Notes on the composers and the pieces

Wolfgang Amade Mozart

Wolfgang Amadè Mozart: Overture to Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute)

Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) was Mozart’s last opera, though much of it may have been written before his previous one, La clemenza di Tito. The idea of a “magic” or “fairy” opera to be given at the Theater auf der Wieden was suggested in 1791 by impresario Emanuel Johann Schikaneder. Its form would be a Singspiel with musical numbers and spoken dialogue, roughly the equivalent to a Broadway musical. Mozart was glad to comply. His music had become somewhat out of vogue with the public, and he needed a way back into German theaters to earn money to support his family.

The original idea was changed to a story involving Freemasonry (Schikaneder and Mozart were Masons). The setting suggests Egypt, though no location is defined. The story is essentially of rites of passage. Prince Tamino endures trials in order to rescue Pamina, the daughter of the Queen of the Night. The magic flute protects Pamina and him as they go through their trials. In the process they learn the truth about the Queen and the man she paints as evil, Sarastro. For the birdcatcher Papageno, his quest is to find earthly happiness with a wife and children. Mozart managed to conduct the premiere in spite of a long illness. He died several weeks later after learning that Die Zauberflӧte might have been his greatest triumph.

Mozart likely wrote the overture quickly after completing the opera. Its structure is simple. Three solemn chords are followed by a lively fugue based on an idea from a Muzio Clementi piano sonata. After the chords are heard a second time, the fugue resumes to the end. Those chords are intoned three times in the Act II initiation scene in the temple of Osiris and Isis, and are the only part of the overture heard in the opera. (Three is an important number in Freemasonry. That may also explain the key signature of E-flat, which calls for three flats.)

—Roger Hecht

Roger Hecht plays trombone in the Mercury Orchestra, Lowell House Opera, and Bay Colony Brass (where he is the Operations/Personnel Manager). He is a former member of the Syracuse Symphony, Lake George Opera, New Bedford Symphony, and Cape Ann Symphony. He is a regular reviewer for American Record Guide, contributed to Classical Music: Listener’s Companion, and has written articles on music for the Elgar Society Journal and Positive Feedback magazine. His latest fiction collection, The Audition and Other Stories, includes a novella about a trombonist preparing for and taking a major orchestra audition (English Hill Press, 2013).

Read about Beethoven

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