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Big hall in the Großen Festspielhaus | © Luigi Caputo

About the Salzburg Festival

Great names for a magnificent festival. The story of the Salzburg Festival is closely tied to names like Max Reinhardt, Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Herbert von Karajan.

The History of the Salzburg Festival

The idea of creating a festival in Salzburg as an extension of a centuries-old theatrical tradition first surfaced towards the end of World War One. It was driven by well-known personalities of that time, and especially director Max Reinhardt, writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal and composer Richard Strauss. The Salzburg Festival itself was born on 22 August 1920, with a performance of “Jedermann” on Cathedral Square. Concerts and operas would soon be added to the program.

One of the World’s Greatest Music Festivals

Though one of the most prestigious music festivals in the world today, the Festival has also gone through difficult times. During the Second World War, the future of the Festival seemed very bleak indeed. The fact that, in the post-war years, things rapidly returned to normal, allowing the Festival to continue its development into the multi-week event of today – is very much due to the tireless dedication of the Festival directors.

The Makers of the Salzburg Festival

One of these distinguished himself above all: Herbert von Karajan. From the beginning of his involvement with the Festival until his death in 1989, he shaped the Salzburg Festival like no other: from internationalization of the event to construction of the Grosses Festspielhaus, and the founding of the Easter Festival. His successors, including names such as Gerard Mortier, Peter Ruzicka and Alexander Pereira, had some big, and not always easy shoes to fill.

Traditional meets Modern

As we see, the Salzburg Festival proudly looks back on a long history – though has long since had its feet planted firmly in the present. Despite a huge respect for tradition, the repertoire is continuously being expanded: from a musical focus on Mozart and Strauss to brand-new contemporary works. Allowing the Festival to speak to a broad spectrum of different audiences, with something certain to appeal to practically everyone.

Have we sparked your curiosity? Read more about the history of the Salzburg Festival from 1920 to today, and about Herbert von Karajan.

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