The United Grand Lodge of England, the apex body for English Freemasonry all over the world is presently celebrating its tercentenary. As part of the same, the eighteen Masonic Lodges that come under the District Grand Lodge of Madras of English Freemasons held a music performance by the Madras Chamber Orchestra. The bill of fare was largely dedicated to the works of Mozart, arguably the most famous among the musicians who were also Freemasons.
The venue chosen – The Museum Theatre, was rather appropriate. This architectural masterpiece stands along with the Museum and the Connemara Public Library on land once occupied by the Pantheon, the principal assembly and meeting rooms in Madras for much of the 18th century. And that is why the road alongside is still known as Pantheon Road. Almost from its inception, the Pantheon became the centre for Freemasonry in our city. The movement itself had taken root here in 1752 when the Lodge Madras in the East Indies was founded, with its meeting room being in Fort St George. The oldest Lodge in existence in South India today is Perfect Unanimity (PU), warranted in 1787.
The formation of PU itself was an occasion for music, for there are records of the Masons marching around the venue thrice, to the accompaniment of a band. The funeral of Col. Joseph Moorhouse is recorded in detail. That was in 1786 and we get to know that the Masons acted as pallbearers and took the body to their Temple (meeting hall) which stood where the St Andrews Kirk now is. Thereafter, to the accompaniment of music, the remains were transferred to St Mary’s Church in Fort St George.
Meanwhile, even as these events took place in Madras, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was inducted as an Apprentice Mason on December 14, 1784, into the Lodge Beneficience, at Vienna. He rose in the order, becoming Journeyman in 1785 and finally a Master Mason a few months later. He was a regular attendee of events at his Lodge and also that of another – True Concord. He composed a considerable amount of Masonic music. His cantata The Mason’s Joy (K471) and Masonic Funeral Music (K477/479a) are but two of several pieces. It is significant that two of the greatest influences on Mozart, his father Leopold and the composer Joseph Haydn were both inducted into Freemasonry after him and probably at his insistence. Haydn too composed music for Freemasonry, his first such commission being for six symphonies to be performed at the Lodge Olympique in Paris. When Mozart died in 1791, a Masonic meeting eulogised him thus – “Half Europe revered him, the great called him their darling, and we, we called him our Brother.”
Coming back to Madras, it is noteworthy that the 19th century saw much music being performed for Masonic events. The laying of the foundation stone for Presidency College, on February 6, 1867 by Lord Napier, the Governor and an ardent Freemason, was one such. The architect, RF Chisholm was a Mason too and was then the Worshipful Master of Lodge PU, which was celebrating its centenary. It is therefore no wonder that most Lodges had a position for Organist among their office-bearers. The 19th century was however a time when Freemasonry in Madras was in fairly straitened circumstances and so music was provided by means of a harmonium, or at most an upright piano. The Lodge Anchor of Hope in the Nilgiris however had a unique tradition that is still followed – bagpipes being played.
Music reached iis apogee when the Freemasons built their magnificent Hall on Commander-in-Chief (now Ethiraj) Road in the 1920s. The larger Temple in the building had a 100 pipe organ. The keyboard was set in the thickness of the wall so that the organist could sit within the organ chamber and play. Rosewood grilles around the opening to the organ chamber were an integral part of the decorations of the larger Temple. But in recent years music as a part of Masonic ceremony has been forgotten, though it is used a filler in the background when there is a lull in the proceedings. The office of Organist is a mere formality and as for the Organ, it was done away with during a restoration in recent years. A few music score sheets are all that remain. Mozart would not have approved.
The recent music event featured among other pieces the Queen of the Night Aria from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, a work that is said to be full of Masonic symbolism. Conducted by Bernard Wacheux, the orchestra had violins, viola, cello and bass beside the flute and the recorder. Malavika Shankar was the soprano. It was an exquisite experience and may it inspire Masons of our city to bring back music into their ceremonial.
This article was published in The Hindu dated August 18, 2017 and can be read here.
Researchers to note this article refers to the following works apart from some original research:
History of Freemasonry on the Coromandel by Rev CH Malden
Mozart by Maynard Solomon