“Papageno’s Immaterial Panpipes, or, In Search of Uncritical Organology"

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When Papageno first enters the stage in Die Zauberflöte, the stage directions indicate that he holds “a Faunen-Flötchen with both hands'' and that he “pipes and sings.” Despite the copious scholarship on this opera, on the character of Papageno, and on the status of the various objects that play central roles in the opera’s main action, surprisingly little attention has been given to the pipes that Papageno plays. Of course, they haven’t been wholly ignored: in Subotnik’s now classic essay, “Whose Magic Flute?” she accords the pipes a central role in our understanding of the musical universe of the opera, writing, “It is Papageno’s humble pipes that delimit the claims of Mozart’s mighty opera to be understood only within the terms on which is presents itself, and that establish a basis within the opera for criticizing the Magic Flute’s reading of itself as a corroboration of Enlightenment values.”  

Underlying Subotnik’s elegant reading is an assumption that the panpipes were indeed a materially and timbrally different kind of thing from the surrounding orchestral instruments. Indeed, most scholars have assumed, implicitly or explicitly, that Papageno plays his own instrument and that the instrument he plays is a panpipe. While it seems probable that, in the original production, Schikaneder did indeed play his own instrument, evidence suggests it is unlikely that he played an actual panpipe. Nevertheless, in the years following the premiere of the Magic Flute, the image and concept of the panpipe became intimately bound up with the character of Papageno and the opera. The goal of this paper is two-fold: first I explore both the status of panpipes in the late eighteenth century and surviving the organological and iconographical evidence to think about what sort of instrument Papageno might have played. Second, I reflect on the lessons we might learn from the pipe’s aerophonic ambiguities: how much does it matter what instrument Papageno plays (or if Papageno even plays at all)? And what might it tell us about both the limits of both timbre studies and organology that the nature of Papageno’s pipes has been so long ignored?

About the Artist:

Emily I. Dolan joined the faculty at Brown University in 2019. Previously, she held positions at Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania. Dolan works on the music of the late 18th and 19th centuries. She focuses on issues of orchestration, timbre, aesthetics, and instrumentality, exploring in the intersections between music, science, and technology. She has published articles in Current MusicologyEighteenth-Century MusicStudia MusicologicaKeyboard Perspectives, and 19th-Century Music. Her first book, The Orchestral Revolution: Haydn and the Technologies of Timbre, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2013. In 2018, she guest edited a double issue of Opera Quarterly, "Vocal Organologies and Philologies." Outside of the 18th century, she is also interested in Sound Art and has published in Popular Music on indie pop and ideas of kitsch. Dolan was a faculty fellow in the Penn Humanities Forum 2008-09 and in 2009-2010, Dolan was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Currently, Dolan is working on a collaborative project on timbre with Alexander Rehding for Oxford Handbooks Online and on her second book, Instruments and Order, which explores the concept of instrumentality.