Saturday 16 February 2013

Within these sacred halls

The title is the first line of Sarastro's simple but sublime aria of consolation to Pamina, who's just been terrorised by a hellbent mama, in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. William Mann paraphrases the sentiments very beautifully in his The Operas of Mozart: 'We do not know revenge in this holy place. If someone falls, he is raised up by love and friendship to better things. Traitors cannot survive when all people love one another and treachery is forgiven. Anybody who does not appreciate this is unworthy to be a human being'.

Mann adds: 'this two-stanza strophic song is essentially the creed of Sarastro's Temple and of the Freemasonry which Mozart and Schikaneder [his librettist, manager of Vienna's Theater auf der Wieden where The Magic Flute opened in 1791 and the first Papageno] embraced'. Mozart is on the far right, it seems fairly clear, of the below painting of the Viennese lodge Zur neugekrönte Hoffnung, 'Of new-crowned hope'.' It is, I hope,' Mann adds, 'the basic creed of everybody, no matter what ethical faith they subscribe to.' And therein lies the noble essence of what Freemasonry originally was, and what it still purports to be: 'a craft, a personal vocation of benevolent moral growth, whose principles are conveyed through imagery connected to building'.

Those words are from Tim Dedopulos's The Secret World of the Freemasons, an excellent if uncritical introduction, though misleadingly titled; there are no secrets other than the password or gesture used to identify members of one lodge to another,l and since Mozart's time the rituals have all been divulged in print. I found sentences like that useful in trying to understand the fundamental benigness of a movement which is neither a cult nor a religion in itself. What a pity Freemasonry has become a byword for nepotism and ganging-up within interconnected professional movements like the police and the law when - Dedopulos again - 'the society's oaths and obligations specifically forbid members from using the organisation in this way'. There is, alas, plenty of evidence to prove that they do.

One thing's for sure - the lodges in this country, each with its independent rules and rituals, have made every effort in recent years to open their doors to the public; we saw an early example on a King's Lynn Architecture Open Day some years ago. Freemasons' Hall in London offers free guided tours of surprising frequency throughout the week. My Opera in Focus class at the City Lit was obliged to take the building up on this offer as we've been studying Zauberflöte for the past six weeks - and our classroom in Keeley Street backs on to the grand edifice. Indeed, in the early days of the move to our new quarters, eggs were thrown from the Freemasons' Hall onto the windows of a very active music class. Truth, not myth.

We had an excellent guide, even if he fended off some of our more detailed questions. I didn't get much back from asking about the application of the rule of three, which is so important throughout the opera and which dominates the hierarchy of the path to enlightenment, another aspect of Freemasonry which I find rather offputting (the hierarchy, not the enlightenment). Our guide, to my surprise, positively encouraged photos, so they punctuate this entry.

The present building, inside and out, is a monumental tribute to Art Deco, if such a paradox is possible. It was built between 1927 and 1933 to the designs of H. V. Ashley and F. Winton Ashley as headquarters for the United Grand Lodge, itself formed in 1717 (two other lodges previously stood on the site, depicted above). Starting at the superbly laid out, very substantial library and museum, which we were able to browse at our leisure after the tour, we passed through a portrait gallery of notable Grand Masters, including Edward VII looking very splendid in his regalia, and the current incumbent, the Duke of Kent (after whom, it seems, no royals will take up the gauntlet). George IV's especially large masonic throne dominates the room.

Thence down a long processional corridor famous for its use in that engrossing if hokumy BBC series Spooks (the outside of the building will be especially familiar to fans) and recently hired out for the Muppets (!). Its panels are fashioned from a now-extinct mahogany.

Two vestibules to the Grand Temple include a splendid symmetrical set of creation windows.

God is known here as the Great Architect - hence the compasses - to unite all religions; the only qualification for aspiring to join the brotherhood (or sisterhood if you apply to the handful of female or mixed lodges in the UK) is belief in a higher power. Freemasonry is by no means incompatible with any religious practice, merely a moral and practical-living adjunct to it. Lodges around the world use as their Volume of Sacred Law that of whichever happens to be the prevailing religion - so, the Bible, the Koran, the Vedas and so on. At the end of the vestibules is the war memorial by Walter Gilbert, a bronze casket with gold figures, shaped like a barque representing the ultimate journey, more fine stained glass work commemorating the fallen of the Great War.

Massive bronze doors, again designed by Gilbert, open at the touch of a finger. The knocker makes an awe-inspiring sound and could summon masons from any part of the vast building. Gilbert's symbology here is essential to Freemasonry's central allegory of Solomon's temple-building in Jerusalem, a triumph of teamwork between Jews and Phoenicians (none of this in Mozart; and nothing of the Isis-Osiris analogies in the Hall, that I saw, at any rate; though Osiris's death and rebirth are analogous to the ritual of master mason Hiram Abiff in the biblical borrowing). I took this detail from the hall side of the doors, because it marries the wartime preoccupations of Kenneth Branagh's filmed Flute - more anon - with the symbol of silence (hands to lips), sacrifice and (not depicted) wisdom (man holding serpent), prudence, work, loyalty and hope.

I've  been inside the Grand Temple before, for a performance of The Gondoliers featuring our now holy friend Father Andrew Hammond as Don Alhambra del Bolero (inquisitionally prophetic?). I don't think I spent much time then taking in the deco mosaics around the starry ceiling. At the east end above the three master chairs Ionic columns - the two columns of Solomon's temple are always crucial - flank Jacob's Ladder, the symbols of Faith, Hope and Love. Solomon stands on the left, King Hiram of Phoenicia, the temple builder, to the right. For some reason I didn't catch this one, but here are the chairs.

There's a fine organ above them on the north apse wall.

At the west end, the most Flute-y design has Doric columns, Euclid, his 47th problem - the symbol carried by an ex Lodge Master - and Pythagoras. The moon above is surrounded with the wisdom-embodying serpent again (wonder why Tamino has to slay one at the start of the opera).

To the south, Corinthian columns are flanked by an alarmingly Phaeton-like Elijah heading heavenwards in his chariot; above are the all-seeing eye and the five-sided star (many masonic symbols are pentacles, sometimes interlaced triangles).

To the north are composite columns and within them a bit of more mundane heraldry: the arms of the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn. St George and the Dragon are on either side. Celestial and earthly globes surmount the pillars; beneath them are two blocks of stone, unfashioned and fashioned to represent the stages of aspiring to Freemasonry.

The museum has thousands of precious artefacts including attractive 18th and 19th century pottery covered in masonic symbols, masters' thrones, representations of Solomon's temple and reams of banners. This one's interesting in showing the merger of Antients and Moderns; I'm curious that one of them has the symbols of the Evangelists.

I didn't photograph in the museum other than to ask special permission just to snap this 18th century floorcloth as our Sophie is, of course, one of the world's leading specialists in the pre-lino art, and this must be one of the earlier specimens.

We come to the end of our City Lit Flute journey on Monday, after a glorious time floating even more than I can remember on the miraculous cloud of Mozart's incessant inspiration. How wonderful it has been to revisit the great recordings - Marriner with Kiri and Araiza, Mackerras, Beecham, the second Solti which I have now come to love especially for Ruth Ziesak's Pamina - and to watch scenes from three different productions on DVD: Glyndebourne 1978 for Hockney's designs, the core Bergman film which remains for me the best of all cinematic opera and a wary step towards Kenneth Branagh's 2006 fantasy.

It turned out to be highly imaginative, not always tallying with the musical vision - surely the opening scenes on the battlefield are too grim for the initial lightness of touch - but always full of bright ideas and respect for the full score. Joseph Kaiser is such a handsome and vocally excellent Tamino; apparently Branagh discovered him singing the First Armed Man when he went to see René Pape in an American production. Here's Kaiser as Tamino with the Papageno of  Benjamin Jay Davis on the left.

While Davis doesn't make a huge impression and Amy Carson's Pamina is utterly wet and weedy - not at all the trial-leader heroine Mozart and Schikaneder made her become - Pape is a total star. You just have to not mind the thickly accented English (the work is sung in Stephen Fry's not wholly successful translation and his adaptation of very limited dialogue). This is as good a Sarastro as we'll ever hear or see, matching even mighty Kurt Moll for evenness throughout the range, and youthful-natural to boot. The orchestral playing - European Chamber Orchestra under a pragmatic James Conlon - is superb. The still is of Pape with Thomas Randle's against-the-grain Monostatos - and no, the master doesn't have the servant bastinadoed but simply demotes him.

As I hinted above, Branagh's fantasy recreation of a trenches/field hospital scenario may well have taken its cue from the Freemasons' Hall memorial. It mostly works, especially for the trials of fire and water. But again Bergman is unsurpassably moving in this sequence*. The only image of that I could find is on the Criterion DVD cover which I used when I was discussing the 'making of...' film - though amazingly the whole movie is up in quite a good print on YouTube here.

The difference between the two film styles - and it's great that they are so different - is that Bergman, as a theatre director, always values the close-up on the human face, while Branagh succumbs to more recent filmic restlessness by swamping his characters with landscapes, action and the occasional bit of large-scale CGI. But if that brings in a new audience, great. And it's about to open in America, where apparently it hasn't ever been on general release. I'm so glad I didn't write it off unseen. To conclude where we began, here's the great Pape in our lead aria auf Deutsch at the Metropolitan Opera in 1996.

*Having just wound up the opera today (18/1), before looking forward to offshoots in Goethe, Strauss and Hofmannsthal's Die Frau ohne Schatten and Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage, I found myself choked with tears from the last Bergman sequence (we ran the best of all Papageno-Papagena courtships and the proper final scenes together, though Bergman turns the Act 2 finale upside down with some pretty strange reordering). For me, it's still the most bewitching and happy opera film ever made.


David Damant said...

The Magic Flute was influenced by the Enlightenment as well as by Free Masonry. The path to enlightment in the opera reflects I presume the passage from the darker and unscientific practices of the past to the clear light of humanistic thought. With Frederic the Great as Sarastro it is assumed.

I have always considered that to have a Royal at the top of the Masons is some guarantee that the more boring side will not assert itself, so I am sorry to hear that after the present Duke of Kent Royalty will disassociate itself

I once saw a large party of Germans standing in the street trying to work out what the Masons' building might be....and after some debate they seemed to have the solution " Das ist ein Denkmal" [ a Memorial]

David said...

Then again, Freemasonry was the Enlightenment's most significant offshoot. Mozart transcends narrow bounds by incorporating all kinds of musical styles and making them his own. What can be more wonderful than the two armed men singing about the trials to a Lutheran chorale surrounded by Bach-like ornamentation? And what can be more enlightened, beyond the boundaries of an all-male organisation, than to have a woman LEAD her man through the trials, and change Sarastro's little world?

I should not have thought that the royals were any guarantee against a 'boring side', quite the opposite, in fact. Unless by 'boring' you mean 'corrupt'.

A 'Denkmal', of course, the Hall certainly is, in one sense (a WW1 memorial).

David Damant said...

Yes I used the word "boring" instead of something stronger. I once saw one of the top Masonic guys in the presence of the Duke of Kent, and he showed a degree of careful respect which always I think helps to keep any organisation in order ( including the United Kingdom government ! ).

*Freemasonry was the Enlightenment's most significant offshoot" ?? Shome mistake shurely?

David said...

Why? Its tenets are the embodiment of Enlightenment thinking, and as Mann wrote, no-one could disagree with them, surely?

David Damant said...

It was "most significantoffshoot " that I am querying. But perhaps I misunderstand your point

toubab said...

Floorcloths were probably used in most lodges it seems, since I have been asked by my mother's husband to recreate one in his lodge in Bollnas, central Sweden. It is old and worn, made in the mid nineteenth century. It seems that they are not really used as carpets to walk on in the context of a Mason ic Lodge, but rather brought out to stand on for special rituals, and rolled up or hung on the wall like your example seems to be, judging from your picture. Thanks for including it!

David said...

Enlightening, Sophie, many thanks. Of course the main floor or carpet design for Freemasonry is the chequerboard, symbolising either the diversity of creation or the mixed strains (black/white) of life. There's one right in the middle of the main temple in London. But I'm sure you're right that these floorcloths with symbols were brought out for specific rituals.

And, David, J has made me see your point - of course Freemasonry couldn't have been the MOST significant offshoot of the Enlightenment, when palpable developments in science were such a result, for a start.

Susan Scheid said...

Magnificent post, and of course, the benefit of coming late is to get all these interesting comments, too. When I think of Freemasonry, my strongest association is Pierre Bezhukov, which I suspect is not too surprising.

I'm reminded, too, of the Granges here (don't know if they existed your side of the pond?), farmer's cooperatives, in broad strokes, with, as I recall, at least, reasonably egalitarian values, though I might have that wrong. (I once followed the trail of them in service of writing a short story, a bit folksy, but I guess I'd still say competent. For the curious with endless amounts of idle time on their hands, it's here.)

But the main thing I want to note is how wonderfully YOU follow the trail of something--your students at City Lit are lucky folks! I'm quite curious about the Branagh version and intend to keep an eye out.

As an aside, I'm pleased to report that Pape (along with Jonas Kauffman & Katarina Dalayman) is in the Parsifal I'll hear end of the month. I'm looking forward to that.

David said...

Yes, Pierre of course is one literary figure who reminds us of Freemasonry's true purpose. Though of course it doesn't give him the answers to the meaning of life...

I don't know about the Granges. I look forward to reading a short story by S Scheid. Did the law divert you from a full-time writing life, or did you not develop that talent until later?

Howard Lane said...

We too are looking forward to the forthcoming Parsifal (collectively speaking) to be shown at our local cinema, although it clashes disastrously with a certain graduation ceremony.

Now I am longing to see The Magic Flute which I missed last year in Sydney so perhaps I should invest in the Bergman version. I'm also wanting to return to Amadeus after hearing some interviews and anecdotes with Milos Forman and Simon Callow etc. on a broadcast replacing the morning news which was on strike. The film that is, as I doubt there will be a stage revival any time soon.

Thank you for the internal views of the Mason's Hall which I have only admired from outside and wondered what secrets it held.

Susan Scheid said...

I was of about 14 minds about sending the link--my talent was modest, to say the least--but I was struck by the similarities of the Freemasons and Grangers.

To answer your question, I solved the boredom of work by taking up fiction writing, which I did assiduously for several years, then put the pen down, realizing I was better at finding things out than making things up. (Though, thinking of you in a swing dreaming up ballet program notes recalls to me that, as a 4-5 year old, before I knew about Seuss, I had quite a day of it coming up with a poem that used every rhyme I could think of for the word "cat." Went on for a couple pages, at least . . .).

Of the many reasons your posts are such a treasure is the way you open up all sorts of avenues to follow. Must see that building when in London, for one. And meant to ask, what was your music class doing that inspired the egg-throwing?!

David said...

Howard - so long as you have a multiregion DVD player, the Criterion (US) version of the Bergman Flute is the one to have. Frustratingly, the promised UK alternative didn't materialise, I think I'm right in saying.

I rather like Amadeus the film, which at least gives Mozart's inner workings, so to speak, a chance. I saw the original National Theatre production with Paul Schofield and Simon Callow, and hated it. Not at all a great play - is Shaffer really not a good playwright generally? - based on an intolerable premise (via Pushkin). You only have to read Mozart's letters to see what a rounded, delightful human being he was.

Sue - the eggs weren't thrown at our class, but at a music practical (probably a class of clarinets trying to play in unison...)

David Damant said...

Fr Andrew's performance of Papageno's suicide scene was heart rending. Why is he ( P, not Fr A) so often played as a pantomine clown?

David said...

Wish I'd seen that. Watch Hakan Hagegard in the Bergman film: no pantomime clown he. That's partly why I wept on Monday.

Willym said...

As with Susan one of the many joys of waiting a day or two to read a new post from you is the comments and exchanges afterwards. Of course they do tend to intimidate me and make me pause before I add anything.

As always I read you and come away with a little bit more of the world revealed to me.

The glories of the Hall - and why is "monumental tribute to Art Deco" a paradox pray tell ;-) - were beautifully captured in your photos and words. Thank you for that.

I don't believe the Branagh Flute has been released in Canada yet or if so then only at the few "art" cinemas. As for the Bergman - when it was first released I saw it five times over the Christmas holidays and each time came away moved to tears and gentle laughter by new found details. It has been several years since I last saw it – time for a revisit.

I've loved Magic Flute since I first heard it on the radio from the Met when I was 10 years old. It was sung in English in a translation by Ruth and Thomas (?) Martin. And a search of the Met archives tells me it was conducted by Bruno Walter though I had no idea what that meant at the time. Later on I almost wore the grooves out of my copy of the Klemperer recording - I know not to everyone's taste but one that I treasure for a young Lucia Popp's Queen of the Night, the incandescent purity of Gundala Janowitz's “Die Wahrheit” and the love-filled caroling of their “viele Papageno” by Walter Berry and Ruth-Magret Pütz. And the Philharmonia Chorus under the great Wilhelm Pitz and of course the Philharmonia with Klemperer who, for me at least, brings out both the solemnity and the humanity that are such a strange mixture in this piece.

There was recent posting on YouTube of an Italian mini-Flute put up by tenore123:
The music is from the Böhm recording that was issued around the same time as the Klemperer but it is the designs and animations of Emanuale Luzzati that make it such a delight. While watching it I was reminded of his Flute at Glyndebourne in the 1960-70s. I saw its last outing (I believe) with Weislaw Ochamn, a very young Ileana Cotrubas and an equally young Hans Sotin. That year Cotrubas also sang Calisto with Janet Baker, James Bowman and Hugues Cuenod, one of the great opera experiences – and an eye opener to early opera – of my life. As with everything that Luzzati there are child-like qualities but he also captures some of the darkness that lies below the surface. One of my great regrets is that I was a few metres away from the Museo Luzzati in Genoa and missed it in the driving rain.

And once again you have encouraged by economy with your postings. I had an old recording of the Beecham Flute but hadn't bothered getting a CD transfer. As I'm writing the copy I downloaded from iTunes is enchanting me. It is a remarkable transfer on Naxos. You've done it again – forced me (????) to spend money.

As always many thanks .......

David said...

I thought 'art deco' and 'monumental' were at opposite ends of the scale, but if you can cite me other great examples I'll eat my words.

Otherwise, can't disagree with anything you write - and thanks for sharing all those memories. I used the Klemperer (actually a highlights CD) a lot in class, especially for Lucia Popp's unsurpassable Queen and Walter Berry's classiest of all Papagenos. The speed Klemperer takes the 'Pa-pa-pa' duet shouldn't work, but the singers make sense of it. And this Chorus of Priests has to be the greatest on disc.

If you like Rene Pape - who doesn't? - you should enjoy much of the Branagh Flute, if the scenario for the opening scenes doesn't put you off.

I know next to nothing about Luzzati. Will watch that YouTube Flute at leisure.

Willym said...

David you may not want to post this for general display as a bit of it is off-topic but here are some things by Luzzati that I posted about over the years. I find his animations particularly delightful - and fondly recall his Glyndebourne Turo and Cosi.



wanderer said...

How many years have I waited for a peep into a Lodge! And such a deeply informed one - how easy you make it David for the lazy or busy - and as ever your photos are just so pertinent, not to mention perfect. There's something about the colours you always capture, indoors and out, which fairly glow.

Used-to-be lodges nearby are now (well, I can think of two close by) shuls, in that part of Sydney where most of the survivors, who managed to get as far away from Europe as possible, settled and thrive in a wonderful culture of Olde Jewish Europe and two generations of Aussie off-spring woven into an amazing tapestry of the otherwise incongruous.

Bermann, in the strangest of coincedences, I was just reading about in Roger Ebert's (Chicago film critic) memoir Awake in the Dark. It is the best bedside book full of short pieces perfect before drifting away. When The Magic Flute played on Swedish television (on the first day of 1975) one in every three Swedes saw it. Bengt Forslund (a Swedish producer) is quoted as saying: "It's as if he's in harmony with himself. All those years about suffering and death, and suddenly Ingmar's found all of this joy to draw on."

Pape's Gurnemanz is stunning them, I read, in the Met's Parsifal for which we Antipodeans must wait till April. It arrives it seems by dug-out canoe.

David said...

As you can see, wanderer, it's very easy to book yourselves on a free tour when next you visit London (may it be soon).

Of course there was ALWAYS much joy in Bergman, from Smiles of a Summer Night through to The Devil's Eye (I can't stand the colour comedy Now About These Women) and the lusher bits of Fanny and Alexander. I insist that this is the greatest, most human and humane opera film ever made (though no doubt there are a few I haven't seen).

Talking of Oz and dug-out canoes, we saw yesterday afternoon a very fine production by the original director, Max Stafford-Clark, of Timberlake Wertenbaker's Our Country's Good. You know it, I guess? About convicts and officers newly arrived in Botany Bay putting on a production of Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer. A terrific play.

wanderer said...

David, I don't know it although it has played here but not recently as far as I can see (in ran in 1988, the play debut year which coincidentally, or not, was our bicentenary).

I see it is a Thomas Keneally adaptation. Should you be interested The Commonwealth of Thieves is a remarkable read - the first four years of settlement, the Arthur Phillip years. He would return to England and die in Bath soon after leaving if I recall correctly.

And while we're at it, the big season show down here has been the stage adaptation of Kate Grenville's The Secret River. It is a very moving account, historical fiction, of Solomon Wiseman's deportation for theft ( he was a boatsman on the Thames), and his eventual settling at what is now Wiseman's Ferry, at the upper reaches of the Hawkesbury River. For the mystery and fear in white meets black in a strange and utterly incomprehensible land, this is a great and chilling read.

David said...

There are two earmarked for imminent consumption. This is what I love best about blogsharing - the notification of one's passions and enthusiasms. Always worth taking the recommendations of others on the same wavelength seriously.

We saw a wonderful production while in Oz - a Blue Mountains theatre-diner production of The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (don't know if I've got the title right off the top of my head, though I was told it's an Australian classic). The male lead was sick, so the director - obviously the finest actor, too - took over the role, managing to act with script in hand. I also remember a redheaded woman of a certain age dining alone, from time to time waving at an imaginary friend. Funny place, Katoomba.

wanderer said...

Correct - about the title, the classic, and Katoomba.
Much charm has been lost as the Blue Mountains failed to manage its slippage into the late 20th and 21st Century.

You word paint beautifully. It almost sounds like old Kings Cross. Was it in the Carrington, the once grand run-down slightly shabby hotel?

Not surprisingly, eccentrics, arty types and same sexers were attracted to the wonderful surroundings and the escape from suburbia, though the latter has tended to follow aided by the most dreadful gashing highway ripping its way through what was once a string of pretty mountain villages along the railway line.

We escape south, to the Southern Highlands, which while not nearly as dramatic, has a similar topography, flora and fauna, and Dorothy has quite a few friends down here too. I am perched on the edge of a national park talking to you, though the dog wishes you begone for delaying the walk.

Away now, walkies ...

David said...

Yes, it was the Carrington, I'm sure - run-down hotel rings a bell. I have the programme somewhere; would be interested to know if the lead actor/director rang any bells.

I can only repeat that I love this real-time connection: there you were in Southern Highlands warmth, I presume, with hound chafing not long before I read you, while we feel just a touch of spring today. If only I could feed hound a titbit to win some affection.

wanderer said...

Another morning. Another gorgeous sunrise. March can be the best month and we are off to a good start.

I don't suppose it was Reg Livermore? Song and Dance Man, and outrageous. Nothing surpassed his original Frank-n-Furter 1974 (Jim Sharman started it all, Royal Court Upstairs, Tim Curry for you, Reg for us - scroll down to musicals and the black and white shots). He was/is living in the Blue Mountains on quite some estate.

Another walk. We take you with us, down the track, where lyrebirds sing and there's mushrooms bursting through.