The Salzburg Festival Centenary – The Festival as a Work of Peace

The Salzburg Festival was founded during times of abject misery as a daring project against the crisis. Between 1914 and 1918 all of Europe went down in ashes and ruins: monarchies disappeared, empires vanished, millions of people died. The survivors had to find new orientation in wounded societies.

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Salzburg Festival 1920 – Hugo von Hofmannsthal . Jedermann in Max Reinhardt’s production. Alexander Moissi (Jedermann), Johanna Terwin (Paramour) and Werner Krauss (Death).

In an appeal of the Festspielhaus Association during the first year of its existence, 1917, we read: “We (…) believe that the arts will be the true salvation of mankind from the misery of war.”

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Salzburg Festival 1937 – The Festspielhaus after reconstruction by Clemens Holzmeister

In his Memorandum of 1917, Max Reinhardt wrote of “the ravages of this war”, of the “terrible reality of these days”, of the “incredible blaze consuming the world” – against which a festival in Salzburg could and should provide a bulwark. Building a festival theatre would be “one of the first works of peace”. The fact that the audience seating for the first Jedermann performances would be built from the wood of the barracks of a huge prisoner-of-war camp outside Salzburg is only one practical proof of this theory – Jedermann as a peace project.

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Salzburg Festival 1922: Richard Strauss conducting the orchestra of the Vienna Staatsoper at the Mozarteum. The soloist is Joseph Szigeti.

Max Reinhardt was convinced that only culture could reconcile the peoples who had been torn apart and become mortal enemies in the war. “I believe that because of its wonderful central location, the beauty of its landscape and architecture, its historical idiosyncrasies and memories and not least because of its unspoiled virginity, Salzburg is called to become a place of pilgrimage for innumerable people longing for the salvation of art amidst the bloody horrors of our times. More than any other, this war has proven that theatre is not merely a luxury for the rich and sated, but food for the needy.” – Art not as decoration, but as the food and meaning of life.

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Max Reinhardt

“On 22 August 1920, the cries of ‘Jedermann’ were first heard on Cathedral Square. No lost war, not an Austria that had shrunk from a Hapsburg empire spanning Europe to ‘L’Autriche c’est ce qui reste’, no lack of money, not even the sheer struggle to survive could dissuade our founding fathers from their plan. With the idea of a festival, our founding fathers – Max Reinhardt, that magician of stagecraft, the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the composer Richard Strauss, the director of the Vienna Court Opera, Franz Schalk, and the wonderful stage designer Alfred Roller – sought to bring order after the spiritual and financial chaos of the war, and to help build a new, better world – what they had in mind was a first peace project,” says Festival President Helga Rabl-Stadler.

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Salzburg Festival 1923 – Max Reinhardt and his ensemble of The Imaginary Invalid: Egon Friedell, Hansi Niese, Raul Lange, Max Pallenberg, K. Stilmark, Alma Seidler, Nora Gregor and Luis Rainer

After World War II, the Salzburg Festival again played an eminently positive political role: only three months after Salzburg had surrendered without resistance – contrary to orders – on May 4, 1945, the American occupying forces supported the revival of the festival: although the city was severely damaged by bombing, although soldiers and refugees crowded the city and  although there was a lack even of basic nourishment. As after World War I, the political mission of the festival came to the fore: General Mark Clark, the commander of the occupying American forces which governed Salzburg until the Treaty of 1955, chose the opening of the festival for his first public appearance in Austria, because he considered it a “celebration of the rebirth of cultural freedom”: “I am certain that this early introduction of your festival proves that the work undertaken jointly by the Austrian people and the United Nations, to restore a free, independent Austria, will soon be successful.”

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Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla

“The Ouverture spirituelle will be entitled ‘Pax’. In 2020 we begin with the War Requiem by Britten, preceded by Frieden auf Erden, Arnold Schoenberg’s choral work. Placing these at the beginning of the centenary edition of the Festival is a clear message. Altogether, the Ouverture spirituelle will contemplate the subject of ‘peace’ and conflict – for without conflict, there is no peace,” says Artistic Director Markus Hinterhäuser.

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Lukas Crepaz, Helga Rabl-Stadler and Markus Hinterhäuser, photo SF/Lydia Gorges

Entitled Pax – Peace, the Ouverture spirituelle continues the founding idea of the Festival – tocreate a European peace project from the spirit of art after World War I. It focuses on outer peace and inner peace, both of which are endangered by mankind itself. The value of peace is best experienced through its counterpart, war, which can be traced like a blood-stained line running through the centuries. On 19 July 2020, Arnold Schoenberg’s Friede auf Erden and Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem of 1962 will be performed. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts her City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), the CBSO Chorus and the Salzburger Festspiele und Theater Kinderchor. The solo parts will be sung by Elena Stikhina (soprano), Allan Clayton (tenor) and Florian Boesch (baritone).

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Cathedral of Coventry

The work received its world premiere at the rebuilt Cathedral of Coventry, after the previous edifice had been destroyed during the German bombing of Coventry in World War II.

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Elena Stikhina

“Friede auf Erden was written before both world wars, and it evokes a utopia which was destroyed shortly thereafter by the great catastrophes of the 20th century. Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem is a highly personal, haunting plea against war, which the composer had experienced as full of suffering,” says Florian Wiegand, Director of Concerts. (After Press materials).

Marijan Zlobec

 

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