Mozart & Orientalism

by Ibn Warraq (November 2009)






‘”You who revere the

Creator of the boundless universe,

call him Jehova or God,

call him Fu, or Brahma.

Hark! Hark to the words

Ringing out through earth, moon, sun,


Freemasonry clearly answered to many of Mozart’s longings: attraction to mystery and illumination, search for knowledge and quest for beauty, fantasy and brotherhood. The Masons believed in the possibility of social transformation “and the return of humanity from a state of innocence and grace.” As Solomon concludes his chapter on Mozart’s deep commitment to Freemasonry: “A young composer’s fascination with The Arabian Nights, with Fénelon’s rationalist utopian novel, Les Aventures de Télémaque, and with every variety of literary and musical orientalism converge in the Masonic Temple, creating in its consecrated premises a miniature simulacrum of a fantastic illuminated city, casting an anticipatory beam of light from a desired future into a shadowed present. We are left without certainty, but perhaps with some room for mystery and the miraculous.”

EuropeanFrenchAntoine Galland‘s Bibliothèque Orientale, ou Dictionnaire universal …des Peuples de l’Orient [Paris, 1697], completed after d’Herbelot’s death in 1695, contained an entry on Brahma Johann (Hans) Schiltberger [13811440Ottoman EmpireSuleiman the Magnificent, Il Seraglio, and cantata K.619 can be seen as reflections in art of Orientalist research.



[1] Brigid Brophy. Mozart The Dramatist. New York: Da Capo Press, 1988, pp.211-212: “Having drawn on all the world, the taste for the exotic spilled over from the decorative arts into literature, drama and opera-in all of which it might also serve the propaganda purposes of reason. China (Horace Walpole’s Letter from Xo Ho To His Friend Lien Chi At Pekin): Turkey (whose exoticism spiced Gluck’s opera Die Pilger von Mekka as well as Mozart’s own Zaide, where Mozart’s Pasha Selim keeps his seraglio, where Don Giovanni has been in pursuit of his quest, and where Candide ends his and decides to cultivate his garden): Persia (Montesquieu’s Lettres PersanesDie Zauberflöte]): Babylon (Voltaire’s La Princesse de Babylone): Egypt (L’Oca del Cairo [Mozart’s unfinished opera buffa]; Thamos, König in Ägypten [ play by Baron von Gebler for which Mozart wrote incidental music]; Handel’s opera on the theme of Caesar and Cleopatra; Tiepolo’s pictures of the meeting between Antony and Cleopatra and of the banquet at which Cleopatra dissolved a pearl and gave it to Antony to drink; Sethos, [French novel by abbé Jean Terrasson] which provided a gloze on the dissolved pearl; and Die Zauberflöte itself): South America (where Frederick the Great set his opera [Montezuma], and where Voltaire has Candide find El Dorado): Abyssinia (the original title of Rasselas being the The Prince of Abissinia, A Tale): India (Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s La Chaumière Indienne): the Indies (it scarcely matters whether East or West, any more than it matters whether the hero of Die Zauberflöte is a Japanese or, as it is said he appears in some editions, a Javanese, prince): the civilisation of the Red Indians (who provided Voltaire with a hero [the Huron in L’Ingénu]): Mauritius (or, as it then was, under French colonisation, the île de France, which Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, who had spent some years there himself, made the paradisal setting of Paul et Virginie): even outer space (Voltaire’s Micromégas)….”

[2] Ibid.,p.214

[3] Ibid.,p.226

[4] Ibid.,p.229.The passages in square brackets are Brophy’s own footnotes.

[5] W.A.Mozart. Die ZauberflöteDie Entführung aus dem Serail . Introduction by Brigid Brophy. New York:Universe Books, 1971, p.100.

[6] Ibid.,p.15.

[7] Brigid Brophy. Mozart The Dramatist. New York: Da Capo Press, 1988, p.187.

[8] Maynard Solomon. Mozart. A Life. New York:Harper Perennial, 1996, p.344.

[9] Solomon, op.cit.,pp.330-331.

[10] Ibid.,p.335.

[11] James Darmesteter, Introduction to Sacred Books of the East, The Zend-Avesta, Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1880, pp.xvii-xviii.

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