While scholars have long known that The Magic Flute was not the only fairy-tale opera to be produced by Emanuel Schikaneder at his Theater auf der Weiden in Vienna, they did not, until recently, have definitive evidence that Mozart himself contributed to any of the other extant works. In the summer of 1996, University of Northern Iowa musicologist David J. Buch discovered a previously unknown copy of Der Stein der Weisen (The Philosopher's Stone), a collaboratively composed Singspiel with a story based on the same set of fairy-tales from which The Magic Flute was drawn, in the archives of the City and University Library of Hamburg, Germany. The manuscript had been taken to Russia by the Soviet army following World War II, and had only recently been returned to Germany.
Two other copies of the opera are known to exist, but the new find contains the names of contributing composers above nearly every section of the work, including Mozart's, whose name appears in connection with a comic "cat" duet, as well as over substantial sections of the second-act finale. There is illuminating evidence, in the correspondence of Mozart's wife Constanze, that Mozart may have participated in the composition of other parts of the opera as well. However, says Buch, "The evidence points in one direction, but that doesn't mean it's true. We may never know the extent of Mozart's involvement."
Besides having its story derived from the same source as that of The Magic Flute, The Philosopher's Stone has other connections with Mozart's final operatic work. All of the collaborators in the composition of Stone (which was premiered in September of 1790) were closely associated with the development and first production of The Magic Flute, one year later. Emanuel Schikaneder (who sang the role of Lubano in Stone) both commissioned the work and wrote its libretto; Benedikt Schack (the original Astromonte) sang the role of Tamino in its premiere; Franz Xaver Gerl (the original Eutifronte) was the first Sarastro; and J.B. Henneberg (conductor of the first performance of Stone) also conducted the first performance of The Magic Flute.
The period instruments orchestra and chorus Boston Baroque, founded and directed by Martin Pearlman, was chosen by David J. Buch to give the modern-day world premiere of Der Stein der Weisen. The work was presented in concert form in Boston's Jordan Hall last October, and was then recorded by Telarc, marking the ninth recording by the ensemble on that label.
In the concert version, the spoken dialogue (thought to be lost, but found and identified by Buch in time to be used for the premiere) was translated to English, but it is given in its original German on the Telarc recording. The 3-CD set contains an additional disc in which Pearlman discusses the work and its similarities to The Magic Flute.
"What was remarkable was how seamlessly [Mozart's contributions] fit into the whole," wrote James Oestreich in The New York Times, of the premiere. "Here, after all, were four unknown composers who were mainly performers, producing music on the level of minor Mozart [The] release will be most welcome for the further opportunity to get to know this odd lot of composers better, and take their measure alongside the master."