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19 - The Elusive Compositional History of The Magic Flute

from Part IV - Reception, Interpretation, and Influence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 November 2023

Jessica Waldoff
Affiliation:
College of the Holy Cross, Massachusetts
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Summary

Many factors have worked against an understanding of the genesis of Die Zauberflöte. Few of the composer’s letters mention it. The work has no single dramatic or operatic model. Only a couple of sketches and drafts survive, and the autograph score is relatively free of significant compositional changes. Mozart did not live to see a revised production. The gaps have traditionally been filled with speculations and false histories: the claim that Karl Ludwig Giesecke was a co-author (he wasn’t); an assertion that the text in the libretto and score was not original (it is); a hypothesis of the creators’ change of plans mid-stream, leading to discontinuities between Acts 1 and 2 (this does not hold up); and endless theories of planned symbolism and allegory (mostly wild beyond credibility). But there is evidence of the opera’s creation in the libretto and its construction; in the autograph score; in surviving material from early performances; and in stage directions and other scenic clues. The picture that emerges suggests an opera that was much less stable than has been assumed, and of a work that underwent revision just like most stage works of the late eighteenth century.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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