The Salzburg Festival





by Katharina Mölk

The founding of the Salzburg Festival
Since this year is the 100th anniversary of the Salzburg Festival, much has been and will be reported by experts on the subject. Therefore, I would like to give on this page again only a brief overview of the history of the Festival.

Let’s look back to the year 1920:

The director and theater director Max Reinhardt planned a large music and theater event in Salzburg with the writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal and the musician Richard Strauss. In doing so, they deliberately wanted to distinguish themselves from the Bayreuth Festival: “to build what is practiced in Bayreuth, grouped around a North German individual, Wagner, here around an incomparably more complex and higher center, the art of Austria…”.

After World War 1, it seemed especially important that the festival should have a character that united nations. Themes such as earthly pleasures, transience and the connection to regional traditions and peculiarities were brought to the forefront of the performances. Because after the fall of the monarchy, people were not convinced that “the rest of Austria” was capable of surviving, it was now important to strengthen their own identity.

In an advertising brochure for the festival it says: “What gives Salzburgers and Austrians the courage to do this at the present moment? Hofmannthal’s answer: the fact that all people now long for spiritual pleasures.”

On August 22, 1920, the Salzburg Festival opened with a production of Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s “Jedermann” by Max Reinhardt on Salzburg’s Domplatz. In fact, the choice of the play and the performance venue was born out of necessity, for the commissioned work had not been completed and the wood was lacking to build a stage.

Domplatz in Salzburg, ©AnibalTrejo

Max Reinhard said of the performance venue: “The marble saints, five meters high, between which the actors emerged and disappeared again, the shouts of ‘Everyman’ from the towers of the nearby church, from the fortress, from St. Peter’s cemetery, seemed like a matter of course, as a matter of course the droning of the great bells at the end of the play, the striding of the six angels into the dawning portal, the Franciscan monks watching from their tower, the clerics in the hundred windows of St. Peter’s, as a matter of course the symbolic, the tragic, the funny, the music. “

But the play was a great success and is still a flagship of the Salzburg Festival, as is the spectacular setting of the Salzburg Cathedral. Every year, 14 performances of the play take place with an audience of close to 35,000 (the exception were the years between 1938 and 1945, as the play had been declared unfit for performance).

In 1921, the second year of the festival, concerts with local musicians were also offered, organized by the director of the Salzburg Mozarteum, Bernhard Paumgartner. However, Richard Strauss wanted to recruit the most renowned artists of the time for the Festival and recruited the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. From the third year in 1922, opera performances were now added. Since then, theater, concert and opera have formed the framework for the festival. The Felsenreitschule was used as a venue in addition to Domplatz, and from 1927 a newly built Festspielhaus.

The unification idea of the festival was also current after the Second World War. Thus, in 1949, Federal Chancellor Leopold Figl announced: “The Festival, here in the center of Europe, just after the Romanesque South as the Germanic North and the Slavic East, here at the intersection of the most diverse schools of thought and political interests, is a manifestation not only of the Austrian, but also of the pan-European cultural will. […] The call for a closer union of the European states and for a serious return to the common cultural values is no longer heard in isolated cases, but it is the wish and hope of everyone who longs for a better future for all of us”.

In 1960, the construction of the large festival hall took place. 55,000 cubic meters of the mountain massif had to be blasted away because the Festspielhaus was built so close to the mountain.

Today, the Salzburg Festival is one of the world’s most important theater and music events. They take place every summer in July and August. Every year, more than 200 events are attended by more than 250,000 guests during the six festival weeks.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s 100th anniversary festival was modified and shortened from August 1 to 30.

(Text from 2020)

Literaturhinweis: 100 Jahre Salzburger Festspiele. Eine unglaubliche Geschichte in fünf Akten, Malte Hemmerich, 2019

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