The Centenary of the Salzburg Festival

This is a paper I was invited to give in Brussles earlier this month as part of a conference organised by “Forum Voix Etouffées”

Salzburg 1920

The destruction of Habsburg Austria would result in an ambivalent anger in 1918. A large segment of bourgeois Austrians felt they had been manipulated into a world war that led to their annihilation as a European power by the Prussians. Their attempts during the war to strike a separate peace with France or Britain were dismissed by the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph as dangerous, potentially resulting in Germany invading Austria. In addition, it was strategically not in the interest of the French and British, as they saw Kaiser Wilhelm’s German defeat more easily brought about by keeping Austria’s unwilling carcass strapped to the Hohenzollern underbelly. With the defeat of the Central Powers, Habsburg Austria was reduced to its German speaking core, representing today’s Austria

Its German speaking provinces in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia were parcelled off to the newly formed republics of Czechoslovakia and Poland. The Dolomites along with the rest of South Tyrol went to Italy. It had been a World War that Austria did not want and had not planned. Its original intention had been to establish its dominance in the Balkans at the expense of the Serbians. There had been two Balkan wars prior to the fatal assassination in Sarajevo and Serbian attempts to unite European South-Slavs were not in the interest of Habsburg Austria, who wished ultimately to see a united Yugoslavia as potentially part of a more federated realm. At least this was the semi-secret plan of Franz Ferdinand. It was a plan the Hungarians hated as it diminished their position within the Dual Monarchy and it was a plan Serbia hated as it blocked their own attempts to unite Yugoslavian Slavs.

Post 1918, the core of Greater Austria was reshaped into what would become Austria’s First Republic and consisted of the regions previously known as “German-Austria”. German speakers in Greater Habsburg Austria were a minority, vastly outnumbered by Austrian Slavs. The 1919 Treaty of Saint Germain-en-laye declared that the newly founded republic must simply be called “Austria”. To insert “German” into its official name would encourage association with its larger neighbour and implied Austrian legitimacy in its former German speaking holdings in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Italy. With Austria’s defeat and its declaration as a Republic, it at least harboured the hope that following Woodrow Wilson’s principle of national self-determination, it could be folded into what would be the reconstituted federation of the German Reich’s newly established republic.  

Austrian Children’s Schoolbook from 1928 with exhortation to be German

This was primarily thwarted by the French who wished to see a return to a Europe of multiple German states. If the Europe of pre-1870 could not be entirely recreated, it was hoped that individual states such as the Saarland, the Rhineland, Bavaria and perhaps even other former Reich constituents would break away: keeping “German-Austria” out of Germany fit neatly into this plan. Nevertheless, the first act of Austria’s parliament following the declaration of the Republic in November 1918 was to call for its annexation by its larger German neighbour. The allies agreed upon signing the Treaty of Saint Germain-en-lay to reconsider the question of Austrian amalgamation into Germany in twenty years’ time. It was for this reason that the world, with the notable exception of Mexico, accepted Nazi Germany’s annexation exactly nineteen years later with little more than a shoulder shrug.

The identity crisis had begun in 1866 with Austria’s defeat and expulsion from the German Confederation by Prussia. Bismarck had strategically not included Austria as part of his unification of the German states for the reason that at the time, Austria was not seen as a German constituent. It was a multicultural state with a significant German minority. That German was its official language did not alter the ethnic make-up of the country itself. Many of Austria’s German speakers resented Bismarck’s exclusion, while those who saw themselves as part of a multi-ethnic Austria, did not. For this reason, German-Austrian composers such as Franz Schreker, Arnold Schoenberg, Ernst Toch, Erich Zeisl and Hans Gál did not see themselves as Austrian, but as “culturally” German. Or, as the daughter of Hans Gál explained to me: they were first and foremost Viennese, and after that, they thought of themselves as culturally German. “I don’t think my father thought of Austria as any kind of concept after 1918”. By the same token, Polish, Czech, Ukrainian and Bukovinan Austrians saw themselves as “culturally” Austrian – as did most of Austria’s Jews. To all of these “Children” of the Habsburg Emperor, German was a language, not an ethnic identity. In a world still innocent of the racist nationalism that ended in the murder of millions, German culture was the culture of “Dichter und Denker” (poets and philosophers”). Most of German-speaking Central Europe had been unified in a German Reich under the Prussian crown, and German-Austrians felt excluded. With German Austria reduced to The Republic of Austria, the identity crisis deepened yet further. What was Austrian? Was it possible to unify Austrian identity with German identity, or were the two totally incompatible?

At this point, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Max Reinhardt and Berta Zuckerkandl revisited an idea put forth by the writer Hermann Bahr several years earlier. His vision was to position Salzburg as a Mozartian Bayreuth. Gustav Mahler, the former lover of Elisabeth Mildenburg, now Bahr’s wife, had mounted the Da Ponte operas in Salzburg in 1906, launching the idea of Salzburg as a musical high-temple. Salzburg would become a place of pilgrimage, just as Wagner’s Bayreuth was. This concept was revived post-World War as a means of consolidating a unique Austrian identity. Mozart, who had always referred to himself as a “teuscher Komponist” “German composer”, had now been politically requisitioned as an Austrian and would become the figure head of what post-war Austrians hoped might become a separate, German speaking nation. To this end, Hofmannsthal wrote Berta Zuckerkandl:

“We want to make Salzburg, the place of Mozart’s birth and the pearl of Austria’s cities, a symbol. With the destruction of the political body that was formerly the Empire, Max Reinhardt and I wish at least to keep Austria’s immortal soul alive.” [“Wir wollen die Perle der österreichischen Städte, wollen Mozarts Vaterstadt, wollen Salzburg zum Symbol erheben. Max Reinhardt und ich wollen, nachdem das Reich politisch untergegangen ist, seine Seele unsterblich erhalten.”]

Ad in Musikblätter des Anbruch from 1920, listing the founding of the Salzburg Festival Society as taking place in 1917, and stating its purpose (at this point still at war as German ally), as presenting “German Arts”

Hofmannsthal, Reinhardt and Zuckerkandl saw Austria’s “immortal soul” in music, art, opera and theatre. These were the apparent vehicles they believed singled out Austrian exceptionalism. With Hofmannsthal, Max Reinhardt and Berta Zuckerkandl the prime movers in this project, they undertook themselves to define this nebulous concept of “Austrian identity”. Hofmannsthal and Reinhardt both settled on two overriding aspects: mediaeval Catholicism and the austerity of the high Baroque. In socially stratified Austria, Hofmannsthal was still widely perceived as Jewish, though in fact his lineage offered only a single Jewish grandfather. Reinhardt and Zuckerkandl, on the other hand, were both Jewish, meaning that attempts to steer Austrian identity towards a Catholic, Baroque identity were initially perceived as Jewish subterfuge. In any case, Zuckerkandl came from a family that since 1866 had been close to Archduke Rudolf’s plan to place the Habsburg realm closer to France than to Prussia. The Emperor, Franz Joseph, opposed this policy and Zuckerkandl’s father, Moritz Szeps, who owned das neue Wiener Tagblatt, one of Austria’s most important newspapers, provided a journalistic platform for Rudolf’s political thoughts, published under a pseudonym.

Anton Kolig’s portrait of Berta Zuckerkandl

One of the ironies of history was that George Clemenceau would propose marriage to Berta Szeps, later Berta Zuckerkandl. Though she turned him down, her sister Sophie married George’s brother, Paul Clemenceau. The family Szeps/Zuckerkandl may have been Jewish, but they hated the nationalist “Deutschtümlerei” of lederhosen, dirndls, knights and damsels along with yodelling, beer and sausages in chauvinistic German-Austria, and had always felt multi-ethnic Austria-Hungary to be culturally closer to France.

Jedermann opening at the Salzburg Festival 1920

Salzburg’s festival offered the perfect opportunity to reinforce this position, though apart from a performance of Molière in 1923, the Festival set out initially not to show its cultural solidarity with France, but its unique, supranational position within Europe. Yes, German was Austria’s language, but its legacy, its aristocracy and its institutions were all conceived as transnational and transcultural. It was this transcultural nature that was in fact different and believed to be uniquely Austrian.

József Szigeti violin, Richard Strauss and the Vienna Philharmonic

Prior to the tragic Annexation of Austria by Nazi German in March 1938, the Festival fell into three distinct periods: 1920-1925 (lack of finances, meant there was no festival at all in 1924); 1926-1932 and 1933-1937.

The most politically active periods were from the beginning until 1925 when the festival served as a rallying cry for Austrian identity, and from 1933-1937 when Germany’s Nazi policies attempted to stop German tourism to Austria, while providing Europe’s highest profile artists who either refused to perform in Nazi Germany, such as Toscanini, or were forbidden from performing, such as Bruno Walter, an important venue.

Bernhard Paumgartner

It is an obvious paradox that the festival meant to present Salzburg as Mozart’s Bayreuth would not actually get around to performing Mozart in any meaningful way during the opening year of the Festival. In 1921, a Concertante performance was planned though subsequently dropped of Mozart’s Bastien und Bastienne. The following year, they managed performances of the three Da Ponte operas in German, using the staging from Vienna in 1906, and Enführung aus dem Serail. Bernhard Paumgartner conducted the first Mozart symphonic concert using the orchestra of the Mozarteum. Nevertheless, it was obvious that Mozart and Hofmannsthal were often at ideological loggerheads. Mozart’s operas, with the possible exception of Don Giovanni were exemplary works of the anti-clerical Enlightenment, while Hofmannsthal and Reinhardt’s focus on mediaeval mystery plays such as Jedermann and das Salzburger große Welttheater or Karl Vollmöller’s  Das Mirakel stood for something that appeared to be the very opposite.  Austere Baroque Catholicism as represented by reworked mediaeval mystery plays and Mozart were conspicuously uncomfortable bedfellows.

The first chamber music festival 1922 with Karl Weigl;  Karl Alwin; Wilhelm Grosz; Arthur Bliss; Paul Hindemith; Ethel Smythe; Paul Pisk; Willem Pejper; Egon Lustgarten; Egon Wellesz; Anton Webern; Karl Horwitz and Hugo Kauder

Perhaps sensing that Salzburg’s festival was opportunistically being used to show a conservative, devout and pious Austria,  Egon Wellesz, Rudolf Réti, Alfred Dent and Robert Mayer planned an international chamber music festival in 1922 that would take place at the same time as the Salzburg Festival. It was the first of what would become the annual event of the International Society for Contemporary Music, or Internationale Gesellschaft für neue Musik, an important new-music organisation that is still with us today. Though it fell outside of the official Salzburg Festival programming, it offered a very alternative view of music in Europe and most especially of music in Austria. Arnold Schönberg, though not present himself, was represented by many of his followers. Also present were Béla Bartók and Darius Milhaud, Paul Hindemith, Anton Webern and Dame Ethyl Smythe. The original intention of the Chamber Music Festival was to bring former adversaries in war together in concerts of new music.  The result of the nascent ISCM festival in 1922 would be a counter chamber music festival in 1923 headed by Joseph Marx, Julius Bittner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold and championed by Julius Korngold. Though it managed to attract the attention of festival visitors with its marked adherence to tonality within its programming of works by Wilhelm Grosz, Erich Korngold, Hans Gál and Joseph Marx, it would not be able to maintain the international resonance of the ISCM. Indeed, Marx, Korngold, Grosz and others were featured in both festivals. The newly christened ISCM went on to present a programme in 1923 at the Mozarteum consisting of works by Alban Berg, Arnold Schönberg, Béla Bartók, Florent Schmitt, Ernst Krenek, Sergei Prokofiev and Othmar Schoeck among many others. While the following year, 1924, the Salzburg festival didn’t take place at all due to lack of funding, leaving both chamber music initiatives high and dry. In any case, it was the first instance of music being used as a weapon of political persuasion, even if the persuasion was meant to encourage adherence to a newly defined national identity.

Was Austrian exceptionalism outward looking and international, as presented by the ISCM, or inward and devout as presented by Austria’s conservatives? Indeed a cursory glance through early advertising in the new music magazine Anbruch offers notices of Austrian music festivals in various parts of Germany, including “Austrian Music Days” in Berlin and Cologne. There’s even a publisher in the Netherlands who announces his speciality in music coming out of “New Austria”. The question of Austrian musical identity was clearly not just a discussion taking place in Austria itself. One needs to bear in mind that soon after the First World War, Franz Schreker, Arnold Schoenberg, Ernst Toch, Hanns Eisler, Karol Rathaus, Alexander Zemlinsky joined other Austrian musicians such as Fritz Kreisler, Artur Schnabel, Emanuel Feuermann and Carl Flesch in Germany.

The Three periods of the Festival prior to 1938: No. 2: 1926 – 1932 (Franz Schalk conducts Lothar Wallerstein’s production of Zauberflöte with set designs by Oscar Strnad, 1928)

The second block of pre-Anschluss Salzburg festivals was from 1926-1932 and was more successful and international with many tourists being welcomed from abroad. The venue of the Festspielhaus was enhanced, and changes in local tax regimes made the Festival a lucrative event for Salzburg businesses that previously had been shut out of profiting from the influx of visitors. More political were the discussions that took place during the two Mozart years: 1927 and 1931. Of the two, the debates and symposia that took place in 1931 began to offer a foretaste of the politicization of Mozart, and ultimately began to redraw the fundamental political lines of the Festival itself. Two prominent Mozart scholars went head to head in a debate as to the cultural provenance of Mozart with Ludwig Schiedermair arguing for Mozart’s place as a German composer with Fausto Torrefranca arguing for Mozart as the great Italian.

A major loss to the Festival was the death in 1929 of Hugo von Hofmannsthal. His spirit continued to reign supreme, however, in the festival’s annual presentation of Jedermann, and the continuous presence of Richard Strauss operas with Hofmannsthal libretti, such as Ariadne auf Naxos and Rosenkavalier.

The Three periods of the Festival prior to 1938: No. 3: 1933 – 1937: Toscanini in rehearsal with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1935

It is when we come to the final block of Festival programmes that politics start to move from the side-lines into the centre of the festival’s survival and fundamental sense of purpose. A number of major political watersheds took place: in Germany, the NSDAP with its virulently anti-Semitic and anti-Communist policies usurped what remained of German democracy. In April 1933, and largely in response to events in Germany, Austria’s parliament was dissolved and replaced with an anti-Nazi clerical dictatorship under Engelbert Dollfuß. The threat to Austria’s political integrity was manifestly clear the moment the Austrian pan-German Adolf Hitler was proclaimed chancellor of Germany. In 1934, a week-long civil war took place in Austria which saw not only the persecution of illegal Nazis, but the persecution of all political parties on the left. In May a bomb was planted in the Festspiel house causing damage to Anton Kolig’s foyer mosaic while in July 1934, an attempted Nazi coup was thwarted, but resulted in the assassination of Dollfuß and the intervention of Mussolini as ultimate guarantor of Austria’s political integrity. These events resulted in the Salzburg Festival becoming an anti-Nazi event. With Toscanini’s presence and despite Austria’s clerical dictatorship under Kurt Schuschnigg following the assassination of Dollfuß, it even took on an anti-fascist character.

Faust’s setting in 1933

As Nazi Germany’s means of strangling Austria into compliance, Hitler imposed a 1000 Reichmark tax on tourists, meaning the 13,000 visitors to the festival in 1932 from Germany were reduced to a mere 800 in 1933. Bruno Walter, a Jewish conductor now banned from work in Germany and part of the Festival’s artistic team since 1925, took on a higher profile role and symbolically conducted Tristan und Isolde, mounted to mark the 50th year since the death of Richard Wagner. The stage design was carried out by the Jewish architect Oskar Strnad, while Jewish directors such as Max Reinhardt directed Goethe’s Faust and Lothar Wallerstein directed Strauss’s Ägyptische Helene.

Forbidden in Nazi Germany: Joseph Krips and Lothar Wallerstein in Salzburg; Anti-Fascist? The Hungarian Dictator Admiral Horthy Arrives in Salzburg

Jewish performers who remained in Germany were restricted to the activities of the Kulturbund deutscher Juden, or the Cultural League of German Jews – soon to be renamed the Cultural League of Jews in Germany, following the Nazi decision that it was impossible to be both German and Jewish. Almost immediately an influx of Jewish singers and performers descended on the Festival or relocated from Germany to Austria. Rosetta Anday, Claire Born along with Lotte Schöne, Margit Bokar, Vera Schwarz, Irene Eisinger and Elisabeth Schumann married to the Jewish conductor and composer Karl Alwin – all of these singers had already presented the embodiment of the Festival’s Salzburg Mozart programming. After Mussolini’s intervention during the attempted Nazi coup, it goes without saying that from 1933, Da Ponte/Mozart operas were performed in Italian. Other Jewish singers were the dramatic soprano Rose Pauly, the operetta singer Fritzi Massary who was the absolute favourite of German and Austrian publics in her performances as Adele in Johann Strauss’s die Fledermaus.  Fritzi Jokl came to Salzburg via the German Cultural league in Darmstadt before making her way via Salzburg to safety in the United States. Jaromila Novotná, a passionate anti-Nazi and one of Salzburg’s most popular Rosenkavalier Octavians, Figaro Countesses, Magic Flute Paminas would soon follow. Emanuel List was one of Salzburg’s favoured basses, though competition was offered by the Jewish Russian/American Alexander Kipnis who was another regular within Germany’s Cultural League, before leaving Salzburg to settle permanently in the United States. Other conductors who were no longer able to work in Nazi Germany but were conspicuous in Salzburg after 1933 apart from Bruno Walter were Otto Klemperer and Joseph Krips.  It’s not easy to say to what extent this deluge of talent was politically intended, or even if a political stand can be discerned from the Festival itself, or whether they were simply being opportunistically expedient.

Herbert Graf’s stagin of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Less ambiguous was the participation of high-profile anti-fascists such as Arturo Toscanini who openly cancelled his performances in Bayreuth and conducted an orchestral concert with works by Wagner in Salzburg in 1934. This was followed by his even more demonstrable 1936 Salzburg Festival performance of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. In addition, performances of Mahler symphonies were offered pride of place in Salzburg’s orchestral programming. Mendelssohn and Goldmark were also performed, though banned in neighbouring Germany. The Rosé Quartet, led by Arnold Rosé, Mahler’s brother in law, leader of the Opera Orchestra, and first desk in the Vienna Philharmonic was also a favourite of Festival visitors. In 1938, Arnold Rosé and his daughter Alma fled to England. Alma, after an ill-fated return to Holland, eventually perished in Auschwitz

The Festspielhaus’s new fly-tower roof, 1937

If Hofmannsthal and Reinhardt’s ideas from 1920 had in fact delivered the cultural, ethical and aesthetic foundation of what would become Austria’s clerical dictatorship in 1933, Realpolitik would begin to provide the cultural, ethical and aesthetic context of the festival in 1937, the year before Austria would cease to exist as an independent country. Mussolini’s guarantee of security had started to ebb and Da Ponte operas had returned to being performed in German. The Festival itself had subtly but notably taken a turn in attempting to appease the vocal and aggressive pan-German voices within Austria’s crumbling political edifice. Though Bruno Walter, Arturo Toscanini and other prominent Jewish opera directors such as Max Reinhardt, Lothar Wallerstein and Herbert Graf were visibly active, the tone had moved decisively towards a German presentation of Mozart with Fidelio (a work that had been on the Salzburg programme since 1927) and Wagner’s Meistersinger, Weber’s Euryanthe and Strauss’s Elektra shoring up the Festival’s German credentials.Goethe’s Faust (part 1) was performed for the last time, to be replaced in 1938 by his Egmonth. Indeed, following Austria’s annexation in March 1938, all attempts of portraying a uniquely Austrian identity had been halted by the time the Festival opened in August. The above mentioned singers, performers had fled abroad, where, to paraphrase Hofmannsthal, “at least the festival’s soul could still be saved”.