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Masonic Service Association of North America

Emessay Notes July 2010

The Pleyel Hymn

“Solemn strikes the funeral chime”

         How many tender memories these old familiar words evoke in the mind of a Mason. Often in the open Lodge—alas, all too often beside the open grave—he has heard them march with slow, majestic step to the measure of the Pleyel Hymn. Never were words and melody more fitly blended, and they induce a mood pensive indeed, but not plaintive, rich in pathos without being poignant—a mood of sweet sadness caught at that point where it stops short of bitter, piercing grief. Yet few know when it was written and by whom, though many must have paused to muse over the faith of which it sings.

         The hymn was written in 1816 by David Vinton, a lecturer on Masonry and teacher of the ritual in the first quarter of the last century, whose field of labor was in the South, chiefly in North Carolina. Originally it had eight stanzas, only four of which are used in our ritual and burial service, and Vinton little thought that his lines would be sung for a decade, then laid aside, then taken up again and sung wherever a Brother Mason is laid to rest, “in the land called America.”

(This story of The Pleyel Hymn was written by Joseph Fort Newton and published in his book The Men’s House, in 1923, and will be the August, 2010 Short Talk Bulletin).

Ernest Henry Shackleton

         In the June 2010 issue of Emessay Notes there was an article on Masons who were members of the Royal Society of London. In error Ernest Shackleton was noted as having taken his 1st degree in 1801 and his 2nd and 3rd in 1911. MSA is in the process of verifying the correct date of initiation but it more than likely was 1911.

Did YOU Know?

What is meant by the phrase almond tree?

         Has white flowers; symbolic of old age, when hair turns white

(Source: MSA Digest Masonic Dictionary)

Music And Freemasonry

            The three classical composers, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven form an interesting trio in the context of music and Freemasonry.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

            Mozart, who was initiated on 14 December 1784 in Vienna, Loge Zur Wohltatigkeit (Charity), was for the rest of his life a dedicated Freemason. He attended various lodges regularly and composed music for the Craft ceremonies: Lied zur Gesellenreise K. 468 was written for his father Leopold’s Passing in March 1785 and Maurerische Trauermusik (Masonic Funeral Music) K.477 in November 1785 for a Lodge of Sorrow. Mozart also benefitted from the financial support of his fellow masons when in need, most especially Michael Puchberg.

Franz Joseph Haydn

            Haydn, who was initiated in Vienna Loge Zur Wahren Eintracht (True Concord) just two months after Mozart on 11 February 1785, appears to have taken no further interest in the Craft. For the last eighteen years of his life, Haydn was the most famous composer in Europe and there is very little chance, therefore, that his presence in a Lodge either in Vienna or in London would have gone unnoticed and unrecorded.

Ludwig van Beethoven 

            Beethoven, although frequently described as a Freemason was, as this paper will show, never initiated into the Craft.

            The final significant point concerning Beethoven and Freemasonry concerns his dealings near the end of his life with the famous English composer, conductor and Freemason, Sir George Smart. Smart visited Beethoven in Vienna in 1825 and kept a journal of their several encounters. Smart became a Freemason in 1798 and succeeded Samuel Wesley as Organist of the UGLE in 1818, a post he held until 1841. In 1817, the Philharmonic Society of London that had been founded by Smart decided to commission two new symphonies from Beethoven for a fee of 300 guineas. Smart conducted the first London performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on 21 March 1825. Clearly, in directing that performance Smart experienced difficulties with the timings indicated in Beethoven’s score – Beethoven was the first major composer to use the Metzler [Mälzel] metronome – and thus decided to visit Beethoven in Vienna later in the same year to discuss the tempi of the various movements and other technical matters with the composer face to face. Although Smart was a well-known Freemason, there is no mention in his detailed account of their various meetings of Beethoven being a brother. Indeed, in the two letters Beethoven wrote to Smart not long before he died, it is clear that although Beethoven was appealing for Smart’s aid, there was no Masonic bond between them.

            It is, therefore, perfectly clear from the evidence of the primary sources that Beethoven never became a member of the Craft and that his expressions of fraternity in works such as his singspiel ‘Fidelio’ and the last movement of his Choral Symphony were no more, and no less, than an expression of the spirit of his time.

(This information was taken from a paper written by Christopher Powell titled
Masonic Musical Myths published in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, Vol. 121, for the year 2008)


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