Salzburg Festival: The end is near like every year

Despite the Corona crisis, the Salzburg Festival celebrates its anniversary, albeit with a fuselage programme. Ten objects from a hundred years of the festival tell the story of this exclusive cultural event.

On August 22nd, a hundred years ago, a warm Sunday, the Everyman Calls resounded for the first time in the late afternoon over the city and festivals of Salzburg. During the sparse years of the young republic, the people of Salzburg were given special food rations, 54,000 kilos of flour and a truckload of fat, to cope with the expected hype. The ensemble waived the fee, only the actor Werner Krauss, who played both the devil and death in the first Everyman Year, demanded leather trousers. The net profit of the six performances, the equivalent of around 15,000 euros, was distributed among the handicapped, widows and orphans left behind by the First World War.

[“It was the birth of an institution that was to contribute significantly to establishing Austria as a cultural nation. Today the festival, which of course revolves entirely around the genius loci of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, is the luxury liner among the country’s cultural tankers.”]

The Salzburg Festival is the child of a world denial. Born in the last years of the declining Habsburg Monarchy, born from the spirit of a pastoral, arch-catholic and restorative spirit, the initiators, director Max Reinhardt, the writer Hermann Bahr and his literary bosom child, the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal, wanted to bring to life a manifestation of Baroque rapture.

Hofmannsthal had failed due to the reprints of Greek tragedies. Now he committed himself to a faithful Christianity, consciously creating his “play before the masses” as a “political issue”, in the course of which the sanctimonious dregs of the “Bavarian-Austrian tribe” were to be stirred up. “Audiences are vacillating, short-tempered and capricious,” he proclaimed in a manifesto, “the people are wise, a giant body that probably knows the food that gets to it. To this day this idea hovers over the festival like a threat.

The curators of the great anniversary exhibition Great World Theatre in the Salzburg Residence (runs until 31 October 2021) have selected one hundred objects from the changing festival history for one hundred festival years. We present ten of them.

Margarethe Lasinger, Martin Hochleitner (Ed.): “Great World Theatre”, 480 pages, Residenz Verlag, Salzburg 2020, 25,- €

[“The theatre dominator Max Reinhardt had already launched the mystery play Jedermann Jedermann im Geiste, Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s friend and brother in spirit, in 1911 at the Berlin Circus Schumann. The morally-soaked fairy tale in Knittelversen failed.”]

It was not until 1920 in Salzburg that the production on the square in front of the baroque cathedral façade was a resounding success. Today the play about the death of the rich man is the soul of the festival. The respective main characters, the title hero and his companion, called Buhlschaft, are still the secret rulers of the city, who cannot remain unmentioned in any report. It was only during the Nazi era that the play was removed from the programme and replaced by its role model, the cobbler poet Hans Sachs. This is why it also forms the backbone of the Corona fuselage programme in the anniversary year, without which the festival would seem unthinkable.

[“The Jedermann director’s book by festival founder Max Reinhardt documents the history of the performance of the controversial parable of contemplation. The director’s notes on the Berlin premiere are written in black pencil, Reinhardt used blue paint for the version on Domplatz, and in violet ink he marked additions for the performances from the 1930s. Reinhardt noted his ideas for the Jedermann guest performance in New York’s Century Theatre in 1927 with red pencil. There, too, the Baroque instruction found little approval.”]

The history of the performance venues tells of endless construction sites that repeatedly led to financial crises for the festival community. In 1924 they even had to be cancelled.

[“Right after the first season, the former Winter Riding School in the complex of the prince-bishop’s court stables was adapted to a temporary stage, which was primarily intended to serve as weather-related alternative accommodation for the performances for everyone. The stables, which Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich had built at the beginning of the 17th century (and later served as cavalry barracks for the K.-u.-k army), now house the central performance venues of the festival at the foot of the Mönchsberg (and partly built into it): House for Mozart (formerly Small Festival Hall), Large Festival Hall and Rock Riding School.”]

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