The Political Mozart: Exploring Enlightenment Politics in “Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso”

Posted by: Jocque Warner

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“Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso” W.A. Mozart


Throughout history, music has served as subtle commentary and sometimes an impetus to cultural and societal renaissances such as the counter-culture of rock and roll in the 1950s and the hippie revolution of the 1960s. Positing radical critiques on old ideas, contemporary issues often grapple with outdated thought and constructs. While these contemporary examples resonate more soundly with modern audiences and spectators, the same political commentaries echo in musical compositions of classical antiquity. Therefore I hypothesize Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, working near the mass adoption of Enlightenment ideology, remained cautious of the changes in societal thought and the possible implications impeding upon innocent liberties of the general public. With the enlightenment well underway and increasing political tensions across Europe, especially in France later culminating in the start of the French Revolution, Mozart’s opera, Le nozze di Figaro, wrestles with issues of old versus new schools of political thought. Specifically in his aria, “Non piú andrai, farfallone amoroso,” Mozart informs audiences of new enlightened ideas and how they affect a people on a day-to-day and person-to-person basis. In this short paper I will explore Mozart’s dexterous implementation of militaristic arpeggios and bugle instrumentation, fanfare topoi, and comedic exploration of related and unrelated key areas. Such a synthesis will provide insight as to how these gestures function within Mozart’s comic opera aria, evoking a political commentary upon such issues as personal liberty amidst developing European nationalism and the maintenance of innocence under an enlightened republic.

To understand completely the circumstances W.A. Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, specifically how the aria “Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso,” was conceptualized and composed, an overview of the political background of Viennese opera is necessary. Until 1786, the Burgtheater[1] was operated under the strict management of Emperor Joseph II.[2] It was in 1776 that, being charged with the desire to have title as director of his own theatre, Joseph II founded the Nationaltheatre. In establishing a second Viennese theater, Joseph had upset the longstanding tradition by dismantling theatrical displays French plays, opera comiques, Italian operas and replacing them with plays and musical comedies in German. Such a rich variety of stage productions provided rich cultural experience to public audiences at a time when opera and theatre aimed to be an art of the people. With his dismissal of the entire Burgtheater staff, the Emperor implicitly made a bold statement regarding the objective of theatre productions in Vienna during his rule, specifically regarding the staff’s replacement with a German company of musicians and actors.

In his attempt to establish an all-German company rooted in performing pieces in the German vernacular speculations regarding the political aim of such an establishment come forth. Joseph’s power over theatrical spectacles such as opera, drama plays, and musicals demonstrates the immense influence of the public that the performing arts hold.[3] In controlling the language and nature of opera and theater, he monopolizes on the knowledge and influence regarding political ideas that are conveyed and communicated through the performing medium.

Seeing as Enlightenment thinkers were prominent at this time and Europe was very much developing from a continent dependent on individual city states to unified state powers, Joseph knew very well that the most efficient way to develop a national identity would be through the performing arts. Such political ideas as truth gained through reason and enlightened stability of civil governments would unify a collective people and help to amalgamate the city-states into cohesive and homogeneous civil populations under one enlightened rule.[4] Heartz supports these speculations of language as a vehicle to impose particular ideas upon the public as he communicates that, “the theatrical reform of 1776 could be regarded as part of the wider reform movement in that new plays using vernacular language familiar to most Viennese were deemed as the most expeditious way of enlightening the public.”[5] In the attempt to establish and maintain the German company, however, Joseph II was not successful. The Nationaltheatre suffered from its inception due to a lack of gifted poets and musical composers. Coupled with the event of Joseph recruiting an Italian company through Count Giacomo Durazzo, the attempt to enlighten the public through German vernacular stage productions fell rather short of successful. Even though the reintroduction of Italian opera ignited a theatrical renaissance of sorts in Vienna, it caused sour side-effects with some.[6] In such a time of trial failure by account of Joseph, this factual happenstance of failed enlightenment influence sets the stage ever so conveniently for W.A. Mozart’s composition of his opera buffa, Le nozze di Figaro. In composing an opera in the buffastyle and in the Italian vernacular, Mozart provides a refreshing reset to the glory days of Viennese theater prior to the strictly German opera of Joseph’s Nationaltheater reform of 1776.

Moreover, Mozart’s selection of an Italian libretto entertains ideas pertaining to military service in Spain. Focusing on the final number in Act I of W.A. Mozart’s opera, the aria, “Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso” provides significant evidence to suggest a political commentary rooted in a jaded portrayal of the enlightened republic of Austria and the romanticized militant atmosphere of war and conquest. Already Enlightenment influence had permeated areas of Europe, imposing influence and yielding visible effects on the economy. Spain saw an increase in populations as well as a growing economy and empirical expansion.[7] Wandering from conventional constructs of western musical tradition, Mozart presents a dramatic opening statement by eliminating a formal ritornello coupled the entrance of Figaro’s comedic dialogue on the fourth beat of the first measure.[8] One can easily see and hear the echo of militant ideas, providing mere topical treatment of text painting in relation to Figaro’s dialogue with Cherubino regarding the army. The melody, shown in Figure 1 below, falling and rising by intervals of thirds presents rigid angular motion very similar to the firm movement of militant marching.

Figure 1.


            Observing the march-like intervallic movement of Figaro’s opening melody it becomes clear that the strict and limited movement allotted to the vocal line as well. Careful analysis shows that the first five measures present a melody that stretches no bigger than a perfect fifth interval. This almost trapped melodic line, traveling in arpeggio fashion with the interval of a fifth presents a quick, succinct, and efficiently executed commentary on the military style and the overall theme of the aria with just the few opening bars, throwing thematic ideas at the audience in an almost intrusive manner.[9] Such speculations are solidified as Mozart presents intervallic melodic movement in the instrumental orchestration near the end of the aria. During the coda of the aria, Mozart includes the arpeggiating bugle/trumpet motive (figure 2). In providing a

Figure 2.



variation of the opening melodic motive, Mozart creates cohesion of militant ideas using a bookend method as well as seamlessly weaving the military topic into both the vocal line and orchestral accompaniment.

With the establishment of the military style Mozart’s theme of Spanish national pride is displayed and presented in a concrete manner, laying a framework to build upon regarding Mozart’s opinions and commentary in relation to the development of a national identity by means of Enlightenment rationale and political force, specifically in Austria. Mozart constructs his criticism of Enlightenment ideas by superimposing contrasting styles of the angular militant topic and frivolous melodic gestures brought into the foreground by the strings. As I already pointed out the militant motives in the opening lines and in the closing orchestration, I next concern my attention to the rigid rhythmic and bombastic moments in the orchestration, echoing and complementing the vocal line, as shown in Figure 3 below. As seen in the strings, even though the melodic gesture includes a scalar descent, its movement is didactic and quick to return to the high E natural as the scalar sixteenth note runs began on.

Figure 3.



Studying the text/vocal line that is accentuated by such orchestrated military topic reveals interesting evidence. Such lines as “Traguerrie poffar Bacco”  translate literally to “a soldier indeed,” while the following line reads “gran mustacchi stretto sacco,” translating to, “large mustaches, narrow knapsack.” Such a libretto and musical pairing expands upon the mere theme of an aria conveying a comedic interpretation of minutemen and wartime leads us to speculate the meaning of these lines. The line “soldier, indeed” marks the relative inception into military life and the acceptance of an identity and allegiance with a republic, an entity outside of self and very much of a collective. Such a reality takes away from the individuality of the human spirit and tarnishes the human spirit. Such an assertion is reinforced with the next text line, “large mustaches, narrow knapsack.” Such a line conveys the innocence that is taken from the young and the forced sense of adulthood “mustaches,” as a physical sign of being an adult male. Further, “narrow knapsack” refers to the strife and hardship often associated with war and conquest, both in the line of fire and on the home front. Juxtaposing the text and the subject being sung to, Cherubino, we realize Mozart occupies his time by constructing a criticism of the development of militia, more largely, a criticism of developing nationalism.  Similarly Mozart provides yet another bombastic gesture in the orchestration, shown in Figure 4 is the flute line that matches the other

Figure 4.


woodwind and brass parts of the score, notating quick dotted rhythms. These short accented passages provide further consecration of the military style that Mozart conveys in throughout the aria.

As I communicated before, though, the gestures provided within the body of the aria are juxtaposed with expressions of contrasting style. Observing Figure 5 one can see the repetitions of the falling violin line convey a much different message from that of gestures found in Figures 3 and 4. In juxtaposing these melodic gestures and ideas with previous examples the claims for Mozart’s political commentary clarify into transparent and effective mediums of conveying political ideas.

Figure 5.


The flowing repeated gestures seen in Figure 5 mimic movement of flirtation, of an object unable to be pinned down and not possessing a stolid rationale for action and existence, like the flight of an uncaged bird. Such a portrayal symbolizes the daily life of the amorous Cherubino. Paired with these daintily repeated motivic ideas the text of the vocal line displays the many bird-like feathers Cherubino will no longer have and the rosy girlish coloring of his curls that will soon be gone. Such a cruel musical idea that teases Cherubino makes passes at the future military life Cherubino will lead. However cruel this text/music pairing may be, the melodic gesture is a wonderful display of adolescent innocence and playful action.[10] With the display of adolescence and the discussion of the soon-to-be-gone aspects of a frivolous amorous lifestyle, Mozart tactfully juxtaposes these motivic and textual ideas with those found in figures 3 and 4. Such a collocation of ideas leads to stark realization of the cynical mood Mozart takes the aria. While he provides textbook gestures of opera buffa, he uses them merely as a mask to shade the cynical underpinnings to the untrained audience member.

As a man bridging the time before and during the brink of Enlightenment, Mozart knew what a large-scale adoption of the Enlightenment would mean for social discourse and action, as well as the consequences on individual levels. In turn, he praises the adolescent nature of characters such as Cherubino, standing as the representation of tradition and of the already established order by loosely united city-states. Under the large-scale implementation of Enlightenment by republics and monarch rulers, Mozart aims to make his audience aware of the possible and approaching consequences of such actions.[11] Creating a cohesive argument by setting the opera in late eighteenth century Spain over an Italian libretto, in an environment striving for Viennese identity and struggling to maintain innocence, Mozart unmasks the ugly truths hidden in the architecture of these antagonistic ideologies hoping to solidify in the composer’s homeland. While there is no way W.A. Mozart knows the widespread effects of the Enlightenment in regards to technology and expansion of the west, he is all too familiar with its immediate effects on his homeland.[12] Such movements and reforms take their toll on groups and individuals as well, nearly destroying the textile fabric of society by greed and a hunger for state and militant power. At a time when monarch powers used extensive resources to develop and define national borders, identities, and cultures, they first sacrificed traditions and identities inherent in a people. With their enlightened minds they created a homogenous collective people, culminating in the disappearance of cultural traditions, censorship, war, and ultimately the death of innocent individuality.


A complete analysis of Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso can be found below:

May 13, 2014

[1] The Burgtheatre was built in 1741 by the Hapsburg Empress Maria Theresa of Austria and served as the Austrian national theatre in Vienna. The Empress wanted a theatre built next to her palace in Vienna. Emperor Joseph II was Maria Theresa’s son.

[2] Daniel Heartz, “Setting the Stage for Figaro,” Musical Times. no. 1718. (May, 1986): 256-260. Heartz expands upon the political atmosphere and speculates effectively the necessary socio-political elements that made it most advantageous for Mozart to choose Italian for the vernacular of his opera. Such deliberate choice instructs audiences and focuses the attention away from enlightened influence of the emperor.

[3] Andrew Steptoe, The Mozart-Da Ponte Operas (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988), 22-27. Steptoe mentions that while Joseph remains in power he does not ultimately hold sole power in the theatre. Ultimately, like all commercial businesses, policy and product is ultimately determined by the taste of the public. However, I speculate the distaste of the Nationaltheatre’s company directly connects to its dismissal and the hiring of the Italian troupe on account of public distaste for the German company held at the Nationaltheatre.

[4] Steptoe, The Mozart-Da Ponte Operas, 25. Much of the effort Joseph II spent on reforms during his rule involved less than satisfactory results. Steptoe draws parallels between the lives of both Mozart and Emperor Joseph II in relation to their careers. The social climate created by Joseph’s reforms yielded a most advantageous environment for Mozart to develop intellectually and pour intellectual thought into his works.

[5] Heartz, “Setting the Stage for Figaro,” 256.

[6] Ibid, 256. With the resurgence of opera and theatre productions outside the German company, the hopes of maintaining influence over performing art mediums to promote nationalism in Vienna was diminished. Such a halt in the quest for an enlightened republic would upset some. Joseph von Sonnenfels, one of the emperor’s most enlightened advisor’s made an appeal to the German troupe of entertainers and that they should not be sacrificed for the Italians. In this instance light is shed directly on the motive of German theater troupes regarding influence on promotion of Enlightenment ideas.

[7] Juan Carlos I, “Spain and the American Philosophical Society,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. No. 4 (December, 1993): 475-480. King of Spain, Juan Carlos I makes remarks regarding his reception of the Thomas Jefferson Gold Medal from the American Philosophical Society. His speech focuses on relations between Spain and the United State, particularly regarding Spain’s role and aid in the American Revolution. He offers evidence to assert that Spain’s continued support was backed by the prevalent benefits the Enlightenment attitude provided Spain in regards to growing economy and expansion of the Spanish empire.

[8] Cherubino’s character is the young page of the Count. He is a flighty and flirtatious young boy who is always trying to swoon the opposite sex. His amorous innocence gets him in trouble often and is what prompts the Count to sentence him to becoming a soldier in the royal army. His childlike innocence is mocked by Figaro in “Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso.”

[9] Tim Carter, W.A. Mozart, Le nozze di Figaro (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,1987), 105-121. Carter explains that Mozart does not draw out his musical themes and gestures. The musical arguments at hand are terse and Carter explains that his “modulations are invariably swift and economical.”

[10] Daniel Heartz, “Constructing ‘Le nozze di Figaro’,” Journal of the Royal Musical Association. No. 1, (1986), 77-98. Heartz discusses the character Cherubino as an “amorous butterfly,” leading the evidence to support the repeated falling lines in the violin. He further strengthens the argument for the gallant style of the motive by pointing out the chromatic inflections of the F sharps to increase the gallant effect. Such a portrayal of the page’s “gallant coiffure” creates a portrait of “adolescent foppery.”

[11] Juan Carlos I, “Spain and the American Philosophical Society,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. No. 4 (December, 1993): 475-480. His majesty Juan Carlos I agrees that while Enlightenment sparked for Europe a transition into a modern era, there are, too, negative consequences that arise with such a rapid shift to a new way of thinking. Such a thought can be conveyed effectively through his words of, “The fateful achievements have not been easily obtained, nor are they permanently secured.

[12] Ibid, 479.


Works Cited

Carlos I, Juan. “Spain and the American Philosophical Society.” American Philosophical Society 137: 475-480.

Carter, Tim. W.A. Mozart, Le nozze di Figaro. Cambridgeshire: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Heartz, Daniel. “Constructing ‘Le nozze di Figaro’.” Journal of the Royal Musical Association 112: 77-98.

Heartz, Daniel. “Setting the Stage for Figaro.” Musical Times 127: 256-260.

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus. Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492. New York: Dover Publications, 1979.

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus. Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492. Mozart Le nozze di Figaro. London

Philharmonic Orchestra. London: London, 1983. Compact Disc.

Steptoe, Andrew. The Mozart-Da Ponte Operas: The Cultural and Musical Background to Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988.