This article by Michael Steinberg about Joerg Haider's influence on the
Salzburger Festspiel was published last October. Steinberg, a
distinguished history professor at Cornell University, has written a book
about the history of the Salzburger Festspiel. I highly recommend this
Note that the events Steingberg discusses took place last summer--well
before the current crisis. Gerard Mortier, the director of the fesitval,
recently resigned to protest Haider's rise to power, and has called for a
boycott of the Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's concert.
The Philharmonic was in continual conflict with Mortier's policies. A
restructuring of the festival's administration has greatly increased the
Vienna Phiharmonic's influence which has benefitted from Haider's politics.
The orchestra has been given a seat on the festival's administrative
The New York Times
In Salzburg, a Fresh Skirmish in the Culture Wars
October 17, 1999, Sunday
Arts and Leisure Desk
By MICHAEL P. STEINBERG
THE 1999 Salzburg Festival was shrouded in scandal. The shock did not come
from any of the festival stages, which have indeed been more inclined to
turn heads in the last seven years, since Gerard Mortier became director in
1992. With mixed success and to mixed acclaim, Mr. Mortier, who succeeded
the Salzburg-born conductor Herbert von Karajan after his death in 1989,
has sought to de-Karajanize the festival by making it more cosmopolitan and
more contemporary. Mr. Mortier has added Messiaen to Mozart, and
playwrights like the iconoclastic Elfriede Jelinek to such stalwarts as
Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who was also the festival's principal founder.
Mr. Mortier's innovations are not news. The shock this past season came
from a declaration of war against Mr. Mortier and the festival's new
profile, delivered at the opening ceremonies by none other than the
President of Austria, Thomas Klestil. Why such an attack from the Austrian
President? Why Salzburg? Why now?
Mr. Klestil was elected president in 1992, succeeding Kurt Waldheim. The
job is largely ceremonial but not entirely. First, the head of state
carries a symbolic identification with the country itself; thus, the
debates over Mr. Waldheim's suppressed Nazi past became synonymous with the
question of Austria's unresolved Nazi past. Second, Mr. Klestil, like Mr.
Waldheim before him, functions as a kind of metarepresentative of the
conservative People's Party. Although the Socialist Party has held onto the
Chancellorship for 30 years, the two parties have governed in a grand
coalition since 1986.
With the reconfiguration of Eastern Europe after 1989, the People's Party's
hold on Austrian conservatism has been challenged from the far right by the
Freedom Party, an anti-immigration faction much like the National Front in
France. But in Austria, a country with a fascist past, this party's
neofascist rhetoric cuts swiftly to the bone. During the summer, the most
pressing question on the level of national politics was whether the
People's Party would consider a coalition with the Freedom Party as a way
to wrest the Government from the Socialists. (That possibility seems to be
ruled out by the People's Party's third-place performance in elections this
month.) Mr. Klestil's ''culture wars'' speech at the opening of the
festival in July was clearly a campaign event.
Mr. Klestil called for a return of the festival to the ideals of its
spiritual founder, Hofmannsthal. In 1918, at the moment of Austrian defeat
in World War I and the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire, Hofmannsthal sought
a new symbol for Austrian identity and prominence in Europe. The city of
Salzburg -- as he wrote and as Mr. Klestil quoted at length in his speech
-- lies at the geographical center of Europe. This is true enough. Salzburg
also lies, Hofmannsthal wrote, at the spiritual center of Europe. This is a
far more problematic assertion, since the culture of Salzburg is German,
and Roman Catholic, and historically intolerant of people who are not both.
The new cultural identity that Hofmannsthal promoted thus claimed to be
cosmopolitan but was in fact a German Catholic culture. Hofmannsthal
sanctified this very ambiguity by writing a new version of the English
morality play ''Everyman.'' ''Jedermann,'' which opened the first festival,
on a stage built in front of the Salzburg Cathedral, in 1920, has, with a
few significant exceptions, opened the season every year since and will do
so again in 2000. A mirror of Austrian political conservatism,
Hofmannsthal's ''Jedermann'' claims to speak for everyone but actually
speaks for German-speaking Catholics.
Mr. Klestil stated explicitly that nothing has changed between 1919 and
1999, wrapping himself in Hofmannsthal's key ambiguity: cultural
nationalism disguised as cultural cosmopolitanism. To his invocation of an
''unchanging Austria,'' he added the dates ''before 1938 and again after
1945,'' expelling the period of Nazi rule from Austrian history. (In fact,
the 1938 incorporation of Austria into the Third Reich was wildly popular,
and seemed to a vast majority of Austrian citizens to have accomplished an
alliance between Catholic conservatism and modern power. The city of
Salzburg was staunchly pro-Nazi. There were, of course, exceptions. The
governor of the province of Salzburg, Franz Rehrl, spent most of the period
in prison. Hofmannsthal died in 1929, but his Jewish grandfather caused him
to be classified as non-Aryan according to the 1935 Nuremberg Laws. His
name and work were absent from the festival during the Nazi years.)
CRITICS of the festival ideology, Mr. Klestil went on to say, not pulling
his anti-Mortier punches, insist on a ''democratic'' understanding of
culture, ''and that means: confrontation instead of harmony, provocation
instead of agreement, spectacle instead of fidelity to the work,
'demolition drama' instead of humanistic, spiritually elevating theater.''
Mr. Mortier reacted furiously. First he wrote Mr. Klestil a personal
letter, which went unanswered. Then he gave press interviews. He branded
the speech a campaign act and told the Austrian newsmagazine Format that
Mr. Klestil's position was closest to that of the Freedom Party.
''This is not only about me but about the situation of culture in
Austria,'' Mr. Mortier said. ''This speech is a signal.''
Mr. Mortier implied that Mr. Klestil was employing a principle of art and
harmony to reinvigorate the fascist idea of a harmonious and beautiful
population. He implied as well that the speech's strategy was to flatter
the neofascist sensibilities of voters who might not feel able to vote for
the extreme right with a clear conscience but who could now vote for the
People's Party and have their secret anxieties addressed.
''This is deeply alarming,'' Mr. Mortier continued. ''What is being asked
for here is the kind of art that lies, and alongside that an attempt to
limit Austria to a small fraction of itself. As if Alban Berg were not
precisely as Austrian as Mozart.''
Mozart, who was born in Salzburg, has always been the town and festival's
mantra and mascot, and Mozart himself, Mr. Mortier added, had become
''sweetened'' and ''marzipaned'' in the service of this false esthetic. Mr.
Klestil's speech, Mr. Mortier said, was ''a fatal reminder of the Nazi
''Under the Nazis, the Salzburg Festival and a false interpretation of
Hofmannsthal's ideas were both used to legitimize the regime,'' Mr. Mortier
continued. ''If you're going to invoke Hofmannsthal, you have to know what
you are doing and interpret him critically.''
Here Mr. Mortier cut to the quick of Austrian discursive confusion.
Hofmannsthal called his agenda ''conservative revolution.'' This was not a
Nazi program. But its cultural nationalism had certain things in common
with the Nazi ideology.
Hofmannsthal's posthumous exclusion from his program, on the ground of his
partial Jewish background, now allows conservatives like Mr. Klestil to
invoke his name not only as a bastion against fascism but also as a symbol
for an essentially anti-Nazi Austrian past. This is a ludicrous historical
and political self-indulgence. On the other hand, to call Hofmannsthal
himself a ''prefascist'' (as Format says Mr. Mortier did, though not in the
published interview) is equally ludicrous. The term is itself a
contradiction in terms, as it claims to identify a mental set that is not
fascist but that leads necessarily to fascism.
But Mr. Mortier's example of Berg was dead accurate. In the brittle years
after 1945, the composer Gottfried von Einem was driven from the artistic
directorship of the Salzburg Festival for programming Berg's opera
''Wozzeck.'' In addition, Mr. Mortier pointed out, Einem had tried to bring
in Bertolt Brecht to direct some of the festival's theater productions.
''We're once again in the same situation,'' he said.
In fact, last year Mr. Mortier hired Frank Baumbauer, the artistic director
of the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg, as director of dramatic
productions. In the aftermath of the Klestil speech, Mr. Baumbauer oiled
the fires in an episode Brecht himself might have written, telling a
reporter from the Suddeutsche Zeitung, a leading Munich newspaper, that he
would like to ''wring the neck'' of the president of the Salzburg Festival,
Helga Rabl-Stadler, whom he described as ''unbearably stupid.''
Ms. Rabl-Stadler shares top management with Mr. Mortier, but not easily,
for she is decidedly in the Klestil camp. She publicly objected to one
recent production, which, according to the news weekly Profil, had sent the
festival's conservative, Munich-based public back home with ''sour faces.''
The Salzburg program had become, in her words, ''much too big-city.'' This
kind of remark, as Mr. Baumbauer seems to have understood, is politically
loaded in Austria, where the big city, Vienna, is consistently attacked
from the right for its cultural hybridism, which for the political right
means cultural pollution.
MR. BAMBAUER wrote to Ms. Rabl-Stadler, saying, ''You know very well that I
didn't mean literally to do it.'' Ms. Rabl-Stadler spent a few weeks giving
press interviews about how speechless she was, never before having lived
under a death threat.
At this point, the practical issue at hand for the movers and planners of
the Salzburg Festival is the question of Mr. Mortier's succession. His
contract expires in September 2001. There is no talk of renewal. A search
committee has been formed, and that in itself has -- not unexpectedly --
been controversial. One of the original members, Ioan Holender, the
director of the Vienna State Opera, resigned after elected officials of
Salzburg (including the mayor and the provincial governor) objected to his
participation. Too big-city.
The search may be both aggravated and educated by this summer of frayed
nerves. The storm unleashed by Mr. Klestil's speech should make it clear
that this festival does engage issues of modern cultural identity and
difference in a country that is completing the century without having come
to terms with its history. The new director will need to address these
issues with political and historical responsibility.