About this work
Wolfgang Mozart joined the order of the freemasons at the lodge "Zur Wohltätigkeit" (Benefaction) in Vienna on December 14, 1784. Mozart and freemasonry seemed an ideal match, and in a little over a year he would achieve the status of "master mason." A small number of works among Mozart's late output was intended directly for use in Masonic lodges, and two major non-Masonic works, the opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute, K. 620) and the Requiem K. 626, share strong Masonic connections. The best known of Mozart's Masonic compositions is the Maurerische Trauermusik, K. 477 (479a) scored originally for two violins, two violas, clarinet, basset horn, two oboes, two horns, and bass. Mozart later added parts for two additional basset horns and bassoon, resulting in an instrumentation absolutely unique in Mozart's vast output.
According to Mozart's handwritten inventory of his music, the Masonic Funeral Music was written "on the death of brothers Mecklenburg and Esterházy" in November 1785. Duke Georg August of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Count Franz Esterházy von Galántha were both members of the Viennese aristocracy, the former a major-general in the Army and the latter Hungarian Court Chancellor. Their combined memorial service was given at the Lodge of Sorrows on November 17, 1785. Research undertaken in the 1980s suggests that an early version of the Maurerische Trauermusik was played at the induction of a new Mason at the lodge "Zur wahren Eintracht" on August 12, 1785. Also, the instrumental incarnation that we now know did not make its bow until the occasion of a concert performance given December 9, 1785.
The music, marked Adagio, is dark and serious in the manner of Mozart's Requiem, K. 626. He makes use of the plainchant Tonus peregrinus, which appears at first in the clarinet part. This tone is used in connection with the Lamentation chants sung on Good Friday and the "miserere" section of the requiem mass. In the Maurerische Trauermusik, the tone is used to hold together what is for Mozart an unusually thin texture. The strings and winds alternate in antiphonal groups, finally settling on a C major chord, which suggests a transcendent spirituality rather than a pleasing conclusion to a musical piece cast in a predominantly minor mood. This may well reflect sentiments expressed by Mozart in his letters of the time, such as "Death, if we think about it soberly, is the true and ultimate purpose of our life. (The) image (of Death) holds nothing terrifying for me anymore; instead it holds much that is soothing and consoling!"