Famous Masonic composers and entertainers

Keith Rushton, WM of Bootle Pilgrim Lodge No 1473 opened the lodge and then invited lodge member, Mike Thompson to deliver a lecture entitled ‘Famous Masonic composers and entertainers.’

Keith Rushton (left) and Mike Thompson.

Keith Rushton (left) and Mike Thompson.

Mike started by saying that Masonic music comes in two forms. The first form of Masonic music is that which is performed on or during Masonic occasions within the lodge or at special occasions such as festive boards and ladies nights. The second form is Masonic music which is not so common any longer. This is music which has a Masonic subject, is mostly performed during Masonic occasions but does not form part of the ritual. In these terms, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart can be considered a Masonic composer but Ludwig van Beethoven is not. A Masonic composer is one who writes Masonic music and must be a Mason, which is why Mozart is referred to as brother Mozart.

Mozart was involved with prominent Masons from his early years, but his real involvement with the Craft started when he was 16 years old when he composed two Masonic works. Mike went on to say that Mozart’s first, a Masonic song called, ‘O Holy Band’, the second, two choruses for a play called ‘Thamos’ by Thomas Gebler another prominent brother. He had many sponsors and friends who were Masons and the culmination of these relations arrived when he was initiated into Benificence Lodge in Vienna on 14 December 1784 when he was 28 years old. Less than a month later on the 7 January 1785 he was passed to the second degree in another lodge, True Concorde Lodge and a fortnight later he was raised as a master Mason in that same lodge.

Besides composing other Masonic works he also instigated friends and musicians to join the Craft demonstrating that he was very active as a Mason. Mike said that one of these was his own father Leopold, who was initiated into Benificence Lodge, but it is said he only attended once.

Mozart also tried to be an innovator at a time of nearing crisis for Masonry in Austria. He had started to advocate the admission of women into Masonry and this was reflected in his opera, ‘The Magic Flute’ in which both the hero and heroine are initiated together, though Mozart was only responsible for the music and not the libretto.

Mike continued by saying with regards to Beethoven, there is no definite Masonic record. Many of his friends and fellow musicians were Masons and there are several references to Masonry in his large volume of correspondence. The “sprig of acacia” has, in the Masonic system, a solemn importance. It is a handsome tree, noted for its remarkably graceful and flexible leaves, of yellowish green which droop down and wave in the breeze like luxuriant locks of hair. It held a sacred place in the ancient initiations and like the weeping willow was the symbol of tender sympathy and undying affection. An emblem too of immortality, it was most fittingly employed to mark the last resting-place of the distinguished dead. The Adagio of Beethoven’s seventh quartet bears the superscription; ‘A weeping willow or an acacia over the grave of my brother’. Both Beethoven’s blood brothers were alive when this work was written and so these words probably had a Masonic connection.

Composers mentioned in Mike’s talk.

Composers mentioned in Mike’s talk.

Schindler, one of his biographers, mentions a handshake when visiting the composer, writing; ‘a grip of our hands said the rest’. Beethoven’s presence at concerts given with full Masonic rites is documented and presumably, in order to have been allowed to attend, he must have at least been initiated into the brotherhood.

Franz Joseph Haydn was 24 years older than Mozart. He became a Mason at the age of 55 on 11 February 1785; about one month after Mozart became a Mason in the same lodge. It is believed that it was his friendship with Mozart that brought about his interest in Masonry. In 1791 he was in England performing at various concerts including one at the Academy of Ancient Music at Freemasons Hall.

After mentioning Johann Christian Bach and Franz List, Mike then moved on to William S Gilbert, librettist, dramatist and critic and Arthur Sullivan composer and conductor, who were both made Freemasons separately and were unaware of each other’s pending interest in the Craft when they were introduced in 1868.

William Gilbert was initiated in Lodge St Machar No 54 of Scottish Constitution on the 12 June 1871. This ancient lodge in Aberdeen was constituted in 1753. His interest in Freemasonry continued on his return to London as in June 1876 he became a member of Bayard Lodge No 1615 which met in Duke Street.

Arthur Sullivan took his first degree in Harmony Lodge No 255 at the Greyhound Inn, Richmond, Middlesex on 11 April 1865. His friend and the man who was instrumental in bringing about the Gilbert and Sullivan duo, Frederic Clay, was initiated with him. Although Arthur Sullivan limited his lodge duties to becoming the organist for a few years he took no other office in lodge or Province. He was honoured as the Grand Organist of the United Grand Lodge of England for the year 1887. He also gave his name to the Arthur Sullivan Lodge No 2156 consecrated in June 1886. The lodge still meets in Manchester in what is now the Province of East Lancashire. Arthur Sullivan, together with the Provincial Grand Master were appointed honorary members.

Composers mentioned in Mike’s talk.

Composers mentioned in Mike’s talk.

Mike then moved on to talk about some of the composers in America starting with the nation’s leading bandmaster, John Philip Sousa (1854 -1932) who was a fervent patriot. Some of Sousa’s marches have strictly military titles for example; ‘America First’, ‘Liberty Bell’, and of course his most famous composition ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’. The man called ‘March King’ was proud to be a native born American and proud to be a Mason. Sousa’s Masonic affiliations are not commonly known but he entered Masonry at the age of 26 and was a master Mason for 51 years.

Mike continued with the history of Irving Berlin. He joined as a member of Nunn Lodge No 190 in New York at the age of 22 in 1910 and he died in 1989 aged 101. Mike concluded with further information about William Count Basie who was a member of Wisdom Lodge No 102, Chicago and more interesting facts about Al Jolson, the undisputed King of Broadway for many years who was a member of St Cecile’s Lodge No. 568 in New York. He left $3,000,000 to charity and it could be considered that in the manner of a true Mason he insisted that many of his kind and altruistic acts be kept secret.

At the conclusion of the meeting Keith thanked Mike for a very interesting and informative talk. The brethren showed their acclamation in the usual manner.