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Go to Salzburg Festival
The Salzburg Festival is a prominent festival of music and drama established in 1920. It is held each summer within the Austrian town of Salzburg, the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The Festival Idea
The birth hour of the Salzburg Festival is generally stated as 22 August 1920 when Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s morality play Jedermann was first performed on the Domplatz (Cathedral Square) in the staging by Max Reinhardt.
The origins, however, go back much further. The first opera ever to be performed north of the Alps probably took place in Salzburg. Prestigious presentations of music and theatre were given with great extravagance at the princely and archiepiscopal court in Salzburg; the people were captivated by the many sacred and secular plays. Until Mozart’s time dramas and singspiels were performed at the venerable Salzburg University and enjoyed great public interest; and Salzburg Cathedral had always been the scene of presentations of magnificent church music as well as church festivities which were celebrated with processions.
The dramatic spectrum in Salzburg extends from the mystery and passion plays of the Middle Ages, courtly Baroque festivities to the time when middle-class theatre traditions became established. Wolfgang Amadé Mozart was born on 27 January 1756 into this dense artistic atmosphere. From 1842, when in the presence of the sons of the composer, the Mozart Monument was ceremoniously unveiled, thus also laying the foundation stone for revering the genius loci, the idea was repeatedly mooted of organising regular Mozart music festivals in Salzburg. In 1877 the Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic) accepted an invitation from the International Mozart Foundation to come to Salzburg for a music festival and performed here for the first time outside Vienna. In 1887 the conductor Hans Richter spoke in the same context in favour of an annual Mozart festival based on the model of Bayreuth.
In 1917, following on from the idea formulated at the end of the 19th century to hold a regular Mozart festival in Salzburg, the association calling itself Salzburg Festspielhaus-Gemeinde was founded thanks to the initiative of Friedrich Gehmacher and Heinrich Damisch in Vienna in order to raise funds for building a festival house. The idea of founding a festival in Salzburg had in the meantime already been taken up by other circles. The poet Hermann Bahr was committed to the idea. Max Reinhardt, who had begun his career at the Salzburg Stadttheater (nowadays the Landestheater) and in 1918 acquired Schloss Leopoldskron, submitted a relevant Memorandum for the Building of a Festival House in Hellbrunn in 1917 in Vienna. In 1919 Hugo von Hofmannsthal published a draft programme for the Salzburg Festival. Thus the festival idea, which had originated on the initiative of the Salzburg middle-class – probably Salzburg’s most successful and sustainable civic initiative – received its intellectual superstructure from its influential protagonists in Vienna.
After the performances of Hofmannsthal’s Jedermann, the Salzburg Festival quickly became established also internationally through the participation of the stage designer Alfred Roller, the composer Richard Strauss and the conductor Franz Schalk, despite the insecure economic situation and initially without support from public subsidies. In particular from 1933, when the Thousand Mark Ban was imposed by Hitler, which meant that German guests stayed away, a counterpart to Bayreuth was proclaimed in Salzburg. The festival managed to attract wealthy Western Europeans and Americans to Salzburg, “with the anti-Fascist Arturo Toscanini as the world famous attraction” (Ernst Hanisch quoting from Heinz Dopsch, Geschichte der Stadt Salzburg, 1996). Nevertheless, this was only for a short time.