By Gabriel Prynn, cellist
For the next concert of the season, my friends in the Trio Fibonacci and I will offer our audience a mystical journey through the centuries, winding its way from medieval music through to works of the classical and modern eras. This event, to be held on February 20th 2016 at the Bourgie Hall, will once again be enriched by unpublished musical gems, thanks to our research in the archives of the University of Helsinki.
Wolfgang and Sibelius: brother freemasons
The cult of Freemasonry has its roots in the guilds of medieval masons who built the great European cathedrals, Gothic architectural wonders that are still admired today. Freemasonry as we know it, with its network of lodges, passwords and secret rituals, came into being in the late 17th century. But by the early 1780s, it was fashionable to belong to a Masonic lodge in the Holy Roman Empire of Joseph II, and the activities of the Freemasons were well known to all in central Europe.
Contrary to our contemporary perception of Freemasonry as an esoteric cult with a taste for black magic, the first members of Masonic lodges were primarily united by the idea of a gathering of citizens who opposed tyranny, intolerance and the precarious status of intellectuals and artists.
Indeed many musicians were attracted by the fundamental Masonic principle of universal brotherhood, as well as by their vision (pioneering for the time) of a God who is the architect of the universe:
« O Lord God, thou great and universal Mason of the world, and first Builder of Man as it were a temple »(Masonic prayer from 1760).
What do Jean Sibelius, Franz Liszt, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Louis Armstrong all have in common? They were all Freemasons! In fact music has long played an important role in Masonic activities.
The clandestine character of Freemasonry prevents us from analyzing their musical works with great accuracy, but from what we know, ceremonial music, hymns and songs designed for singing in unison predominate.
Some Masonic compositions were designed to be executed before a large secular audience however, such as the Paris Symphonies of Joseph Haydn, which were commissioned by the Olympic Lodge, or the most famous of all, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which contains numerous Masonic references. Actually one of the theories put forward concerning Mozart’s mysterious death at the age of only 35 is that he was in fact murdered after unveiling the mysteries of the Masons in this opera.
Wagner said of Mozart that he was « a genius of light and love »; Schumann spoke of his « floating Greek gracefulness. » These words very aptly describe Mozart’s last piano trio, which we will perform as part of this concert.
Let us now turn to the case of Jean Sibelius. Freemasonry was born in Finland in 1756, but was prohibited when the territory found itself annexed to the Russian Empire in 1809. Following the civil war, the Republic of Finland was founded in 1919. After over a century of Russian domination, strong nationalist feelings now burned in the hearts of the Finns, accompanied by the return of Freemasonry to the country.
When a small group of the faithful met to discuss the opening of the first lodge in August 1922, it was announced that Jean Sibelius would compose « original, truly Finnish music for the lodge. » His affiliation with the Freemasons would last his whole life and remains a symbol of his patriotism.