Salzburg Museum Provincial Exhibition 100 Years of the Salzburg Festival

Exhibition 100 Years of the Salzburg Festival

The exhibition “Great World Theatre – 100 Years of the Salzburg Festival” is dedicated to the history of the world’s most important festival for classical music and the performing arts. Very vividly and authentically narrated, the exhibition provides a variety of views of the Salzburg Festival.

The horrors of World War I (1914 to 1918) were still reverberating when Max Reinhardt, Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Richard Strauss founded the Salzburg Festival in 1920 – “The dream of a fairy temple in which people of all world nations can find their way back to each other”. This is how Hugo von Hofmannsthal described the basic idea of the Festival, which was initiated by the theatre impresario Max Reinhardt, who was very successful in Berlin at the time. It was supposed to be a peace project. And “also grant access to the less well-off audience”, according to Max Reinhardt.

On 22 August 1920, the call of “Jedermann” rang out for the first time in front of Salzburg Cathedral, Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s play about the dying of the rich man. Since then, the Salzburg Festival has taken place 100 times and over the years has always had a significant influence on cultural events worldwide.

800 flies in the theatre

A good introduction to the exhibition is the film narrative, a joint production of ORF and the Salzburg Festival: Original film sequences from individual Festival years with a lot of contemporary flair and stories about the Festspielhaus. For example, excerpts from Der Rosenkavalier from 1960, the first performance in the then new Festspielhaus. Or pictures of the young Herbert von Karajan as a perfectionist during rehearsals. Or on the question that was up for debate in 1985 before the premiere of “The Theatre Maker” by Thomas Bernhard. Can 7-800 flies be part of a theatre performance? There was a serious argument about that. Many images and impressions of people and high culture over 100 years in the same place.

Topics in dialogue

Thus attuned, one enters the exhibition concept “Dialogues”, 11 themed rooms in which certain aspects of the Festival’s history are reflected. In the very first room, the question is asked “What would Salzburg be without the Festival? And insightfully answered by decades of companions from the cultural scene.

A labyrinth of text flags with quotations from people significantly involved in the founding of the Salzburg Festival provides a tangible reference to the history of the origins of this special annual cultural event.

Audio stations, drafts of festival halls, documents and materials on festival ideas for Salzburg make the time of the founding vivid.

A spatial production thematises the breaks in Max Reinhardt’s life forced by National Socialism and his relationship with Salzburg. Nor does it omit the conflicts over “degenerate art” under the Nazis or the departure of star conductor Toscanini in 1938 in protest against the Nazification of Austria. The topic is still virulent in Salzburg today, as one could see only recently in the press with the debates about the retention of street names. Streets named after artists who collaborated with the Nazis but who nevertheless achieved great importance for the Salzburg Festival.

Under the heading “Giovanni buys himself a pair of lederhosen”, the enthusiasm for traditional costume fashion in the 1930s at the Salzburg Festival is retraced. And there is no shortage of criticism of the conservatism of the time, which can certainly be understood as a harbinger of the dark 1930s/40s.

The stage of the world

“The city as a stage” – this vision of the Festival founders stands at the beginning of Salzburg’s Festival history. In the past 100 years, the House for Mozart, the Felsenreitschule and the Großes Festspielhaus have emerged from the archbishop’s riding school and the stables. Together with the Domplatz and the Kollegienkirche, they form the central festival district. 

All this and much more will be presented to the public at the Salzburg Museum until 31 October. A kaleidoscope of 100 years of cultural history in Salzburg with worldwide appeal. And a touching and thought-provoking engagement with the past.

Salzburg Museum, exhibition 100 Years of the Salzburg Festival. Mozartplatz 1, Tue to Sun 9am to 5pm (July to September 2021 Mon to Sun 9am to 5pm). 9€ (various reductions). Free one-time admission with valid Salzburg Card. Salzburg Museum

Published 19. June 2021Updated 23. June 2023
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