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Schloss Leopoldskron: Cradle of the Salzburg Festival

2020 will mark the 100th anniversary of the Salzburg Festival. In the wake of the celebrations, Max Reinhardt will once again become the focus of public attention as one of the festival’s three founding fathers. And with him, the place where it all began – Schloss Leopoldskron. Join us now on this brief journey into the past!

A summer evening at the beginning of the 1920s

A hush has already settled over the city of Salzburg. Two people out for a stroll, having just finished feeding the ducks on the Leopoldskroner Weiher, can still see light shimmering from the big windows of the palace. Laughter and the cheerful chink of glasses tease their ears. Now and then, they hear an exclamation of surprise, followed by boisterous applause. Our two pedestrians pause for a moment or two next to the pond and gaze across at the palace. No doubt, they quietly surmise, the owner is hosting one of his fancy performances again.

Max Reinhardt turns the palace into a stage

It was Max Reinhardt, the famous theater impresario, who bought up the dilapidated palace in 1918 and had it renovated piece by piece. He even added a couple of magnificent rooms of his own devising, including the Venetian Room and a library. There was definitely no shortage of merriment in these freshly refurbished spaces, since Max Reinhardt also transformed the splendid rooms into stages, where he would imaginatively present his plays. His audiences would make their way from one room to the next in an attempt to get as close to the performance as possible.

Schloss Leopoldskron gives birth to the festival

Both of the pedestrians outside eventually turn away and slowly amble back home, no doubt assuming that world-famous celebrities must be having some kind of private party. They have no idea that actually, behind the walls of Schloss Leopoldskron, which was originally built back in 1736 by Prince-Archbishop Leopold Anton Freiherr von Firmian, the Salzburg Festival had just been born. In collaboration with Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Richard Strauss, Max Reinhardt decided to revive Salzburg’s rich musical and theatrical tradition. Who knows, perhaps those two friends of ours exploring the park outside will someday attend the famous festival themselves, not even aware that they were once within earshot of its creators.

100 years old – and more current than ever  

The festival, soon to become internationally acclaimed, kicked off with the premiere of Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s morality play “Jedermann”. Directed by Max Reinhardt himself, it was first performed here on August 22, 1920, on Cathedral Square in the center of Salzburg. Ever since 1926 – except during World War II – this “play about the life and death of a rich man” has been on the festival program without interruption. In 2020, the world’s most important festival of classical music and the performing arts will celebrate a major anniversary: now 100 years old – and as current as it has ever been.

“Shakespeare in the Park” continues the Reinhardt tradition

That said, Schloss Leopoldskron’s prominence isn’t only due to the Salzburg Festival. To this day, Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron, as it has been officially known since 2014, continues to exercise almost magical appeal to creative minds and freethinkers: reflected in such events as the Salzburg Global Seminar, which was established in 1947 and attempts to find solutions to global problems. And how could we possibly forget the movie “The Sound of Music”, for which the palace served as a magnificent shooting location back in 1964. In 2014, the now deceased czar of the fashion world Karl Lagerfeld turned Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron into an opulent CHANEL runway. Nonetheless, the creative spirit of Max Reinhardt has also remained intact – for example, in the form of “Shakespeare in the Park”. Inspired by the palace’s theatrical past, visitors follow the actors through the summertime grounds – just as Max Reinhardt’s guests had once sauntered from room to room – able to experience at least part of the history of this beautiful palace for themselves.

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