Salzburg Festival

Salzburg Festival, annual festival of music and drama held in Salzburg, Austria, for five weeks starting in late July. The festival may be considered a descendant of the Salzburg Music Festival Weeks that the Vienna Philharmonic gave irregularly between 1877 and 1910. After World War I several leading German-speaking cultural figures—including Hermann Bahr, Richard Strauss, Max Reinhardt, and Hugo von Hofmannsthal—developed the idea of an annual summer cultural festival to be held in Salzburg.

The modern series of festivals began on Aug. 22, 1920, when Hofmannsthal's adaptation of the medieval English morality play Everyman was given in a production by Reinhardt in the cathedral square. The following year Mozart operas were added to the festival program. In 1926 the former archiepiscopal stables were converted into the Festival Hall, and concerts by the Vienna Philharmonic became a regular feature. In succeeding years, as the festival became internationally celebrated, performances of spoken drama in German declined in prominence in favor of music programs.

The festival probably achieved its greatest brilliance in the 1930s, when Arturo Toscanini and Bruno Walter were its leading conductors. Vienna State Opera productions of works by Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, and Verdi directed by these maestros were especially distinguished. When the Nazis took over Austria in 1938, the festival declined in significance, as many musicians could not (e.g., Walter) or would not (e.g., Toscanini) participate. Nevertheless, the festival continued through 1943. It was revived as an international event in the summer of 1945, immediately following the Allied victory in Europe, and has been held every summer since then. From the late 1950s into the late 1980s the festival's character was largely shaped by the conductor Herbert von Karajan. From 1992 the festival was led by the Belgian Gérard Mortier who, somewhat controversially, performed many contemporary works and encouraged modern interpretations of the classics. German conductors succeeded Mortier as artistic director: Peter Ruzicka, from 2002 to 2006, and Jürgen Flimm, from 2006 to 2011. The Austrian Alexander Pereira became conductor in 2011. Today's performances include opera, drama, and instrumental concerts, and the music performed represents a broad spectrum, from Mozart to contemporary works.

Performances of music and drama at the Salzburg Festival are given in the “Old” Festival Hall, the “New” Festival Hall (built 1960), and the 17th-century Riding School in the Cliff. The residential palace of the archbishop and several other venerable venues are also used for music. Performances of Everyman are still held in the elegant 17th-century square in front of the cathedral.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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