Vol. XXV No. 9 — September 1947

Masonry and Music

Freemasons make something of Tubal-Cain, but nothing of his half-brethren, yet one at least has a romantic connection with Freemasonry. The curious will find the reference in Genesis 4:19-22:

And Lamech took unto himself two wives, the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other, Zillah. And Adah bare Jabel; he was the father of such as dwell in tents and of such as have cattle. And his brothers name was Jubal; he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ. And Zillah, she also bare Tubal-Cain, an instructor of every artificer of brass and iron, etc.

Here, then is the family connection between the “instructor of every artificer of brass and iron” and he who was father “of all such as handle the harp and organ.”

The Old Testament references to harp and organ (organ is mentioned only four times) do not mean the instruments as we know them today. The Biblical harp was probably a lyre or zither, and the organ must have been some sort of Pan’s Pipes, or syrinx — a set of pipes of differing lengths fastened together. Translations and re-translations of the Old Testament original sources have lost to us any very definite meaning of the words.

But “harp and organ,” if by such a fanciful names can be called the instruments played by all gentle Masonic musicians who have added their harmonies to the sweet Masonic chorus, have added much to the solemn beauty of the degrees.

In the Quatuor Coronati Transactions of 1891, a musical critic, Brother W. A. Barrett, said:

There were many worthy musicians who wrote pieces of high Masonic tendency, but as they require the exercise of a certain amount of musical skill, they, in common with a vast number of like compositions, are only occasionally heard, and then not always in connection with Masonic assemblies. The charms of the social circle in Masonry and the good-natured readiness of musicians to add to those charms by the exercise of those gifts and talents has been one of the chief reasons why musicians have taken a large interest in the Craft. Our ancient and honorable institution owes no little of its attractive power in the social circle to music, but except at the time of the consecration of a lodge, music, which could greatly augment the dignity and impressiveness of our ceremonies, is not encouraged to the extent that it might be. The general apathy of the brethren towards the use of vocal music in the several degrees has damped the ardour of the most enthusiastic, who have perceived the advantages which might have accrued by the use of solemn music. Unless, however, music can be introduced into the lodge in a manner worthy of its high mission it should never be done at all. For it should not be dragged forward and exposed to ridicule like a blind Samson brought out and exhibited to the scoffings of the multitude.

Many believe that there is not enough made of music in degree work in many Symbolic lodges. When music is the exception, not the rule, it is doubtless because of the difficulty of finding good performers, or the expense attendant upon purchase of piano, organ, record player.

Usually wherever music is used in the degrees, brethren are enthusiastic over its aid to the dignity and beauty of the ceremonies.

In lodges fortunate enough to have the services of a soloist or a quartet, the familiar passages in Scripture which are a part of the ritual in almost all jurisdictions are frequently sung; the hundred and thirty-third Psalm, the passages from Amos 7 and the verses from the twelfth chapter of Eccelesiastes. All these have been made into anthems for soloist, quartette or chorus, and impressive some of them are, as indeed, is the anthem sung after the obligation, when the first three verses of Genesis are the words for as impressive a bit of musical stage management as ever added suspense to a climax.

Music at its best in Masonry may be found in many lodges — although but in few proportion to the nearly sixteen thousand lodges in the United States. Notable among those which make much of the musical accompaniments to degrees are St. Cecile in New York, and St. Celia in Chicago.

The two lodges named after the patron saint of music are daylight lodges, expressly for actors, musicians and others whose daily bread is earned at night and who therefore must meet in the afternoon hours. Here the greatest of singers are proud to lift their voices in Masonic music and to interpolate melody throughout the degrees in a way peculiarly impressive to those who have never heard much song during the ceremonies.

There are still some brethren who do not like music mixed with their Masonry, saying that the sixth step on the Winding Stairs is only for the Fellowcraft and not for all degrees. Let such as these recall “The Worshipful Company of Musicians,” a guild of the Middle Ages, the members of which mixed their music and their fraternal relations with good effect. Mackey tells their story briefly:

In the course of time these guilds became a fraternity in the sense that the local guilds had everywhere the same customs, and a member of one local guild could dimit to another, could visit, and could find employment. After two or three centuries they began to be incorporated. The earliest known charter was granted in 1469. They had written constitutions (with a legend of their art), an oath, modes of recognition, officers, and they had a custom of admitting non-operative members strikingly analogous to the admittance of non-operatives by Masons in the Seventeenth Century. The details and reasons for this “Speculative” class of membership would have had the same weight with Freemasons of the earliest periods, and suggests the probability that Operative lodges may have admitted a certain number of non-operatives, or honorary members, from the beginning of the Fraternity.

The literature of lodge music is not extensive; there is room for more good books on the subject which will set forth Masonic music which may be used in the degrees, and songs which may be interspersed during the ceremonies.

Some books there are, notably A Guide to Lodge Music, Vincent Stevens, London; The Masonic Music Manual, W. H. James, New York; and Sing, Brothers, Sing, by Carl F. Price, New York. Some of the anthems used have been recorded so that lodges with players can have the benefit of good music well sung, even without any more talented brother than is required to change a record. The library of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction, in the House of the Temple, Washington, D.C., has a fine collection of Masonic music, made by Albert Pike, and other Masonic libraries have sections devoted to lodge music which are well worth investigation by melody minded brethren. The British Museum has a collection in manuscript of some sixty or seventy Masonic songs in German, some of which are credited to Mozart.

With all due regard to the fame of the eminent composers who have written Masonic music or shed the lustre of their fame upon the lodges to which they belong, the composer who is best known, best loved and most sung, at least in the United States, is Ignaz Joseph Playel.

“Playel’s Hymn” (in some jurisdictions called “The Masonic Dirge”) was written probably subsequent to 1772 at which time the musician began to study composition under the composer Hayden, who was to become Playel’s dearest friend.

To the musically simple and inspiring air of the hymn to which the composer gave no name, Masons for generations have sung two sets of words; by David Vinton and by John Sheppard.

In 1816 Vinton issued a volume entitled The Masonick Minstrel, a Selection of Masonick, Sentimental and Humorous Songs, Duets, Glees, Canons, Rounds and Canzonets, Respectfully Dedicated to the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons. This book, printed for the author by H. Mann and Company, Dedham, Massachusetts, sold more than twelve thousand copies to the Craft, an immense sale in those days. It contains the Dirge, set to the music composed by Playel. It will be sufficient to quote two of the original eight stanzas:

Solemn strikes the funeral chime
Notes of our departing time;
As we journey here below,
Through a pilgrimage of woe.

Lord of all below, above,
Fill our souls with truth and love,
As dissolves our earthy tie,
Take us to thy lodge on high.

Written much later, but still many years ago, Sheppard’s words are as familiar and as often used as those of Vinton. Two stanzas must suffice for this version, also:

Ah, when shall we three meet, like them
Who last were at Jerusalem?
For three there were, but one is not;
He lies where ’Cassia marks the spot.

From whence we came, or whither go,
Ask me no more, nor seek to know,
Till three shall meet, who formed, like them
The Grand Lodge at Jerusalem.

These words are also sung to music by Joseph Baraby, for which they were first written.

No story on Masonic music, however short, could be considered complete which did not mention two great composers and musicians who were among those “greatest and best men in all ages who have been encouragers and promoters of the art” — Joseph Hayden (born 1732, died 1809) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (born 1756, died 1791).

In 1780 there was established in Austria the lodge Zur Wahren Eintracht. It appears to have been something on the order of the famous London lodge of research, Quatuor Coronati, and to have devoted itself, through its very distinguished membership, to the writing and reading of papers on Masonic and allied subjects.

It is this lodge which Mozart and Hayden joined and it was undoubtedly from the scholarly associations, the inspirations of foregathering with a most distinguished membership, that Mozart was led not only to his great interest in the Craft, but to expressing it in compositions which are played and loved to this day.

The biographer of Mozart, Otto Jahn, says of him:

Mozart arrived at Vienna in 1781, and joined the Craft in 1784. The consideration in which the order was held at Vienna when Mozart settled himself there was such that it is not surprising to find him with those who were the most clever and best educated men, and the best society of the time. He felt a want of that serious amusement hich reaches the heart and feelings, and joined the lodge.

The want of a form of liberty based upon intellectual and moral education, which was seriously felt at Vienna at this time, was supplied chiefly by Freemasonry, and Mozart thought that it would be useful to him to be introduced into a circle of men who studied great problems. The mysticism and symbolism of the Craft had its own effect upon his impressionable nature.

After he joined the Craft, Freemasonry occupied a very important position in Mozart’s life. Six months after his own initiation he induced his father to become a Mason, and shortly before his father’s death he wrote to him as follows: (Mozart had been a Mason for about two years.) “Since death is the true end and object of life, I have so accustomed myself to this true best friend of man, that its image not only has no terrors for me but tranquilizes and comforts me. And here I thank God that he has given me the opportunity of knowing it as the key of all beatitude.”

But nothing more clearly shows how seriously Mozart regarded Masonry than his compositions for the lodge. Himself the greatest musician that has ever been a member of the Craft, no Masonic music ever written compares with his.

His principal Masonic pieces are:

  1. Die Gesellenreise, op. 468, a Masonic song, composed March 26. 1785.
  2. The Opening And Closing Of The Lodge. Op. 483 and 484. These were probably composed for the first meeting of the lodge Neuge.
  3. A short cantata, Maurerfreude, op. 47b for tenor and chorus, dated April 20, 1795, performed on the 24th of the same month, in honour of Von Born, at a special lodge held on that day to celebrate his discovery of the method of working ores by amalgamation. The success of this discovery was celebrated by the lodge Zur Wahren Eintracht by a banquet, at which the cantata was performed.
  4. A short Masonic Cantata, said to have been written by Schikaneder, for two tenors and a bass, with orchestral accompaniment, op. 623. This was written for the consecration of a Masonic temple, on the 15th of November 1791. It was the last finished composition of which Mozart conducted the performance.
  5. The cantata Die Ihr Des Unermessuchen Weltalls Schöpfer Ehrt, op. 619.
  6. Maurerische Trauermusik, an orchestral piece, an elegy on the death of Duke Georg August of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, and Prince Franz Esterhazy, op. 477.
  7. The Magic Flute.

The oration made at the Lodge of Mourning held by Freemasons in honor of Mozart was published in 1792 and sold for the benefit of Mozart’s family.

It has pleased the everlasting Master Builder to tear our beloved Brother from the chain of our brotherhood. Who did not know him? Who did not value him? Who did not love him, our worthy Brother, Mozart? Only a few weeks ago he stood in our midst, and with the magic tones added such beauty to the dedication of our Masonic Temple. Mozart’s death brings irreparable loss to his art; his talents which were apparent in his earliest youth made him even the greatest marvel of his time. Half Europe valued him. The great called him their favorite, Liebling, and we called him Brother. But while we must of necessity recall his powers in Art we must not forget the praise due to his great heart. He was a most enthusiastic follower of our order. Lover for his Brethren, sociability, enthusiasm for the good cause, charity the true and deep feeling of pleasure when he was able by means of his talents to help one of his Brethren, these were the chief features of his character. He was husband, father, friend to his friends, Brother to his Brethren. Only the wherewithal was wanted to hinder him from making hundreds happy, as his heart had him. What more could be said of any Freemason?

Other noted composers have given great songs to Masonry; Beethoven, Sibelius, Abt, all Masons, and many lesser musicians have composed really beautiful and inspiring music for the Fraternity.

That Freemasonry, which has so much to say of Music in the Fellowcraft Degree (at least, in some grand jurisdictions) makes so little of it except in large and wealthy city lodges, is to be regretted. For “music hath charms” and serves well the gentle art of conveying truth by "mouth to ear.”

No better words to color this short ramble in a bypath of Masonry are available than Joseph Fort Newton’s beautiful apothegm of music: “It is the great mysticism — the rose-lipped shell that murmurs of the sea which brought us hither and will take us hence.”

The Masonic Service Association of North America