Sound and Motion in Goethe’s “Magic Flute”

James P. Rasmussen


In his fragmentary sequel (published 1802) to Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Goethe—a self-described Augenmensch and Ton- und Gehörloser whose preoccupation with vision has been a staple of scholarship—chooses not to maintain the universal opposition between light and dark so central to the original libretto, as one might expect, but develops a thematics of sound and movement, relegating the conflict between light and dark to a mere generative mechanism resulting in the awakening of voice. I explore how sound is given utopian implications, focusing on the infant son of Tamino and Pamina. The boy’s awakening into consciousness, marked by his beginning to speak and to fly, resonates with Friedrich Kittler’s account of pedagogy around 1800, but in its agonistic dimension and its depiction of a rupture-like event of metamorphosis it maintains a strangeness that Kittler’s work cannot account for—and that Goethe himself, it seems, could not bring to completion. (JPR)