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Die Zauberflote. an Alchemical Allegory * Tjeu van den Berk (isbn 9004130993)

Quite some books have been written about Mozarts famous opera “The Magic Flute”. The story is so symbolic and full of mysteries, that many have broken their heads to explain it. It is known that Mozart was a freemason, so the opera is often depicted as a masonic story, while others see an initiation-story and more others just a loose romantising with symbols to please the public of the late 18th century.

The Dutch scholar Van den Berk (1938) was first intrigued by the music and later by the story and he spend years to investigate the characters, story, history of Vienna in Mozarts time, etc. This resulted in a magnificent work that was first published in Dutch in 2002. Two years later the fifth pressing saw the light of day and every pressing has had corrections, expansions and general editing. Readers brought things under the writers attention, for example freemasons noticed something that he overlooked, or opera-experts knew of something in the score (the written music) so now we have a four-times-made-better massive investigation of “Die Zauberflöte”. There is also an (expensive) English version).

Van den Berk did not really find a Masonic symbolism in the opera, also not really Rosicrucian, but an alchemical; the whole opera is the course of ‘the great work’. To found his theories, Van den Berk extensively investigated Hermetism, alchemy, Freemasonry in Vienna in Mozarts time, Rosicrucianism, mythology and towards the end of the book the writers of the libretto Emanuel Schikaneder (1751-1812) and Karl Gieseke (1761-1831) and the “homo esotericus” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) himself.

Of Hermetism you get a quick overview and how a ‘renaissance’ appeared with the coming of Rosicrucianity and Freemasonry and especially Hermetism and the art of alchemy. The history of Freemasonry in Austria is interesting. You learn how fast it grew and how fast the decline was when someone else got power over the country. Mythology was still important in Mozarts time and most of the characters have elements of mythological figures. Of course alchemy is treated most extensively. Van den Berk did his utmost to explain how alchemical symbolism can be found in the characters of the opera, in the general story and even in the music itself. This investigation is sometimes tiringly detailed, but fascinating for treating with both practical and spiritual alchemy and giving a very nice picture of alchemy in practise in the 18th century. Van den Berk used a massive amoun of illustrations too. However of course Van den Berk writes about the opera, this book is also interesting for anyone interested in alchemy, Freemasonry and Rosicrucianity, also (or maybe especially) people who are new to this area.

A very interesting book, even when the music of the opera itself does not appeal much to me. Maybe I should not only hear it on cd, but see it on stage (or DVD) some time.

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