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Blog - Vienna

Prussianism and Freemasonry: The Surprising Origins of "Üb immer Treu und Redlichkeit"

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Potsdamn Garrison Church and Carillon


The melody of Üb immer Treu und Redlichkeit (“Always Practice Loyalty and Sincerity”), which sounded from the carillon of the Potsdam Garrison Church every hour from 1797 to 1945, was composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) five years after the death of Frederick the Great. Its solemn and beautiful tones,  resounding warmly over the canals, tree-lined streets and tiled-roofs of Potsdam, were a comforting presence in the daily life of the venerable old Rezidenzstadt of the Prussian Kings.

From Wikipedia: "The Garrison Church (full name: Court and Garrison Church Potsdam, German: Hof- und Garnisonkirche Potsdam was a Baroque church in Potsdam and, until 1918, Parish church of the Prussian royal family. The architect Philipp Gerlach was commissioned by king Friedrich Wilhelm I to build the church for members of the court and for the soldiers garrisoned in Potsdam. It was consecrated on 17 August 1732 and was soon well-attended by both the civilian and military communities. Friedrich Wilhelm I was buried at his request in the crypt of the church in 1740. In 1786 his son, Frederick the Great, was buried there also, but against his will.

"The bell tower of the Garnisonkirche, a dominating structure, measured 88,4 meters and reached well into the street in front of it. Its side walls were interrupted by tall, narrow windows, while sculptures flanked the corners. A panel with gold lettering mounted above the main entrance facing "Broad Street" (Breite Straße) read, 'Friderich Wilhelm, King of Prussia, had this tower built next to the Garnisonkirche to the honor of God. Anno 1735.'

"The foundation of the bell tower was solidly built and tapered to the upper stories. The top story, built of oak, had lanterns and a copper-covered roof crowned with a weather vane. A Carillon, inherited from the first Garrison church consecrated in 1722, was augmented with five new bass tone bells produced by Paul Meurer. Choral music was played on the hour, alternating with secular music played on the half hour until the end of the 18th century. From 1797 until 1945, the musical order was changed to Bach's Lobe den Herrn (Praise the lord, oh my soul) and Üb immer Treu und Redlichkeit from Ludwig Hölty, set to a theme Mozart composed for Papageno's aria in his final opera Die Zauberflöte (“The Magic Flute”). In between, short melodies - some played upon request - rang out over the city every few minutes."

The story behind this august hymn's melody is fascinating in its own right. As mentioned, it was Mozart who composed the air that became Üb immer Treu und Redlichkeit for a scene in his opera Die Zauberflöte. This work, which premiered in 1791 a little more than two months before the composer’s premature death, is noteworthy for its combination of fairy-tale elements and its allusions to the tenets of freemasonry.

Mozart in 1789, Drawing by Dora Stock, Dresden

The Masonic overtones of the opera are especially significant in that Mozart himself was himself a member of “the craft,” having been initiated into the Masonic lodges “Zur Wohlthätigkeit” (“Charity”) in 1784 and “Zur wahren Eintracht” ("True Harmony") in 1785. In fact, the librettist of Die Zauberflöte, Mozart’s longtime collaborator Emanuel Schikaneder (1751-1812), was one of his lodge brothers. 

Though the melody that became Üb immer Treu und Redlichkeit was first publicly heard in Papageno’s aria "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen" in Act 2, Scene 5 of Die Zauberflöte (which premiered on 30 September 1791 at Vienna's Theater auf der Wieden), it is not impossible that the tune was in prior use among Freemasons during Mozart’s lifetime - though the authorship of the "original" Masonic lyrics (if any) remains unclear.

What IS clearly documented is that a three-volume collection of Masonic songs titled Freimaurerlieder mit Melodien, compiled by Joseph Michael Boheim and printed by G.F. Starke of Berlin, was published in 1795 with the poem Üb immer Treu und Redlichkeit, set to Mozart’s music, included among its contents. The fact that the reigning King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II (1744-1797), was himself a mason - as was his uncle the Great King - is almost certainly relevant to that air’s addition to the carillon of that symbolic shrine of Prussianism, the Potsdam Garrison Church, in 1797. Mozart himself met and performed for Friedrich Wilhelm II on several occasions, and even dedicated his “Prussian Quartets” to him.

Üb immer Treu und Redlichkeit’s opening notes were later used as station identification by the Deutschlandsender, one of the most important radio stations of the Third Reich.

The march Der Geist von Potsdam by Georg Pischel (which features Üb immer Treu und Redlichkeit in its trio, played on the celesta in simulation of the Garrison Church's carillon) is presented on our latest release, CD BH 0940 "Unter der Reichskriegsflagge" - ironically, by the band of the Leibstandarte-SS ‘Adolf Hitler,’ the elite guard of the fiercely anti-Masonic National Socialist regime.