Was Mozart a Baconian?


Francis Carr

July 1999


The central meeting place of the Viennese intelligentsia in the 1790's was the Freemasonic lodge, Zur wahren Eintracht, the True Concord or Harmony. Haydn was a member of this lodge and Mozart attended their meetings frequently. In 1781 the distinguished metallurgist, Ignaz von Born, became the Master of this lodge. He was Emmanuel Schickaneder's guide in his libretto of The Magic Flute and the model for Sarastro, the Grand Priest.

As Nicholas Till points out in Mozart and the Enlightenment, England was the crucible of the Enlightenment.

Born had been a member of the English Lodge in Prague, where Mozart felt just as much at home as he did in Vienna--more so, perhaps, as his music was more highly esteemed there. These Viennese lodges had a predominately Rosicrucian membership. Born's lodge was in fact an academy of intellectual and scientific enquiry, a gathering which was modeled on the Royal Society in London, where Masonic and Rosicrucian doctrines were discussed.

So we can trace a clear link between the Royal Society and Mozart. Founded in 1660, the Royal Society was the new name for the Invisible College, which was founded by the English antiquary, Elias Ashmole, in 1645. He was the founder of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, an astrologer, and the editor of the works of John Dee, from whom Francis Bacon learnt so much. The main inspiration for the Invisible College was Roscicrucianism, with Bacon as its chief guide.

In Thomas Sprat's striking illustration of the founding of the Royal Society,

a bust of King CharlesII rests on a column which is flanked by Ashmole and Bacon. Asmole is shown pointing to the name of Charles, Carolus, on the column, and Bacon points to a set of Masonic instruments, hanging on a wall. Prominent among these instruments is a pair of compasses, which is similar to the letter A , the prominent letter in the headpieces of some of the Shakespeare plays. In Foucault's Pendulum , Umberto Eco stresses the point that Freemasonry was the link between the revolutionary thinkers of the late eighteenth century in France and Austria and Bacon's followers in the Royal Society and the Invisible College. In spite of Catholic suppression in Spain, Italy and France, Rosicrucian philosophy was kept alive in the seventeenth century mainly by Francis Bacon and Michael Maier, the personal physician to the Emperor, Rudolph II, in Prague. It is possible that Rudolph was a model for Prospero in The Tempest. And it is reasonable to see a link between Prospero and Sarastro in The Magic Flute. Another important Rosicrucian at this time was Frederick William, King of Prussia.

What exactly were the main principles of Rosicrucianism? What traditions did it seek to instill into intellectual life in England, France, Germany, Austria and Italy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? The main elements in the teaching were the Hermetic, Cabbalistic and Neoplatonic ideas of the Renaissance, with the additional elements of alchemy and the Greek and Christian doctrines of toleration, reconciliation and compassion.

The Hermetic teaching was that of Hermes Trismegisthos, thrice-greatest. the Greek name of the Egyptian God, Thoth, the divine source of mysticism, magic and alchemy. A leading exponent of this philosophy was Marsilio Ficino in the fifteenth century. The Cabbala was an ancient Jewish occult science, which put forward a mystical interpretation, not a literal belief, in the Scriptures. The Neoplatonic doctrine combined the teachings of Plato, Pythagoras and Aristotle. This dominated European thought until the thirteenth century, and it re-emerged in the sixteenth century, thanks largely to Cornelius Agrippa in Germany and John Dee in England. Much of the philosophy of Rosicrucianism came from Agrippa. It is interesting to note that in a portrait of Lady Anne Clifford at the age of 15,by Jan van Belcamp, painted in 1646, we see on the floor beside Lady Anne, a large book which has a piece of paper issuing from its pages telling us that it is Don Quixote, which was first published in 1605, the year in which Lady Anne was 15.

The book on top of Don Quixote is The Vanity of the Sciences by Cornelius Agrippa. Lady Anne's tutor was Samuel Daniel, who earlier was tutor to William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke, to whom the First Folio of the Shakespeare plays was dedicated.

The Rosicrucians combined alll these doctrines to form a non-sectarian, mainly Protestant, ecumenical program. Bacon, Ashmole, Newton, and Leibnitz all promulgated these ideas. We can find them in As You Like It, The Tempest, Love's Labour's Lost, the Sonnets and Venus and Adonis.

Many of the Shakespeare plays were seen in Vienna by Mozart. In one of his letters he refers to the appearance of the Ghost in Hamlet, and he points out how important it is that on stage such a frightening manifestation must not be prologned. In Vienna Shickaneder presented Hamlet, with himself in the lead. Mozart's opera's share many common themes and preoccupations with the Shakespeare plays.Both were written during the transition from closed, religious moulds of society to more open, individualistic and secular systems. It was a period of doubts, alienation, wars and reconciliation.

Like Bacon, Mozart was interested in symbolic codes and the symbolic use of numbers. The 18th Degree in Masonry was named the degree of the Sovereign Rose Cross. In The Magic Flute , Act One, Scene 18, Sarastro--the name is derived from Zarathustra, the 6th Century BC Persian prophet--makes his dramatic appearance. There are 18 priests in the opera, members of Sarastro's council in the Temple of Isis and Osiris; and Papagena, the ideal wife for Papagen, is 18 years of age. The 30th Degree is the Degree of Revenge, and in Act 2, Scene 30 of The Magic Flute, the Queen of the Night is banished. Two of the most important arias in this opera those of the Queen of the Night in which she declares here program of revenge and her order to her daughter to kill Sarastro. Shortly after this dramatic aria, Sarastro gives his reply :

Within this holy temple
Revenge is quite unknown.
And those who stray from virtue
By love their path are shown.
Then gently led by friendly hand
The find with joy a better land.

Within our holy Masonry (In diesen heiligen Mauern)
By ties of love we're bound;
No traitor can be found
As we forgive our foes-
Those who do not accept this teaching
Do not deserve the name of man.

In other words, only those who comply sincerely with Sarastro's rule, acknowledging their guilt, are forgiven.

The Magic Flute, as Nicholas Till points out, is a Rosicrucian program. When Tamino reaches Sarastro's temple, he reads out the three words which are insciribed over the three main doors: NATURE, REASON and WISDOM. These three entities are the three main pillars of Baconian philosophy. Wisdom, Bacon maintained, can only be achieved by the application of reason to nature. Knowledge, or Science, is Power, he declared in his Meditationes Sacrae--Scienia potestas est. A frequent plea of Tamino, in his ordeal of fire and water, is to gain the strength to endure the impenetrable darkness:

O endless night, when will you vanish?
When will my eyes find the light?


This is the aim of the Enlightenment, the banishment of ignorance, the relief of man's estate. On the title page of Don Quixote,when it first appeared in Madrid in 1605, we could easily read in block capitals, this inscription:-

After darkness I hope for light.

 This is exactly what Don Quixote says in the Second Part, when he and his squire find themselves having to sleep the night out in the open, before the splendid country wedding of Camacho and Quiteria. The opera ends with Sarastro proclaiming that :

The rays of the sun have vanquished the night.
The power of the hypocrite has been destroyed.

In Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio, Blonde, Constanze's maid, who gives her so much encouragement in her ordeals, is English, and the man whom Constanze loves is named Belmont, the name of Portia's country house in The Merhant of Venice.This female lawyer has a counterpart in Cosi fan tutte, with Despina appearing wigged and gowned. In this opera, Fiordeligi prepares to join her lover Fernando, in the army and puts on soldier's clothes, as Helena does in All's Well That Ends Well when she joins her beloved Bertrand. The lovers' confusion in Midsummer Night's Dream is repeated in Act 2 of Cosi fan tutte, and in Hamlet and Don Giovanni we have a ghost, the spirit of Hamlet's father and that of Donna Anna's father.

In his operas, Mozart displays his unerring insight into human nature, with characters on the stage the equal of Shakespeare's as Michael Kennedy has stated in the Oxford Dictionary of Music. Bacon, in his Sylva Sylvarum wrote at length on music, noting the way it moves us emotionally.

"There be in music , certain figures almost agreeing with the figures of rhetoric and with the affections of the mind. The division and quavering, which please so much in music, have an agreement with the glitteing of light, as the moon beams playing on a wave.

It hath been anciently held and observed that the sense of hearing and the kinds of music have most operation upon manners; as to encourage men and make them gentle and inclined to pity. The sense of hearing striketh the spirits more immediately than the other senses. Generally, music feedeth that disposition of the spirits which if findeth."

Bacon and Mozart talked the same language, the language of toleration, individualism, humor, compassion, liberation, and the equality of the sexes--Rosalind and Fiordeligi are good examples-- and the educative, healing and stimulating effect on everyone watching a play or an opera.


For further reading:
Nicholas Till--Mozart and the Enlightenment Faber 1991
Frances Yates-- The Rosicrucian Enlightenment Routledge 1972
Bridgid Brophy-- Mozart, The Dramatist Faber 1964


Francis Carr's webpage




 - Sir Francis Bacon's New Advancement of Learning