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Classical 101

Mozart Minute: Papageno Pranks

It is no secret that Mozart enjoyed a good joke now and then.   A letter he wrote in October 1791 from Vienna to his wife Constanza tells of high jinx he brought about at a performance of his own Singspiel, The Magic Flute.  Librettist and theater director Emanuel Schickeneder also sang the role of Papageno that evening.  Mozart’s words in translation by Emily Anderson in her book The Letter of Mozart & His Family:  “ … during Papageno’s aria with the glockenspiel, I went behind the scenes as I felt a sort of impulse today to play it myself. Well, just for fun, at the point where Schickaneder has a pause, I played an arpeggio.  He was startled, looked behind the wings and saw me.  "When he had his next pause, I played no arpeggio.  This time, he stopped and refused to go on.  I guessed what he was thinking and again played a chord.  He then struck the glockenspiel and said, “Shut up.â€?  Whereupon everyone laughed.  I am inclined to think that this joke taught many of the audience for the first time that Papageno does not play the instrument himself.â€?