Is everyone's logic unique

Salzburg's brilliant improvisations

The founding of the festival was accompanied by the great hardship of the time like a counterpoint. Festival “in the land of the dying economy” is just as foolish as a painting show in a blind asylum, wrote Alfred Polgar. The implicit prognosis about the low viability of this company was invalidated by the founders: namely, when they began to improvise ingeniously.

On the cathedral square. They knew that festivals needed a venue, but they were too impatient to wait for something to be built. You didn't get to a festival by rolling drafts and building plans, but by performing. The first performance took place on August 22, 1920, when the plan for a festival hall still only existed on paper. With a bold initiative by Reinhardt, the performance of Hofmannsthal's "Jedermann" on the square in front of Salzburg Cathedral.

The idea was slowly born: the city as a theater, as a public stage, overcoming the barriers of conventional theater through the choice of location. There was nothing wrong with the "Jedermann", the piece had been known for years that it could be performed on a makeshift wooden frame, in keeping with the tradition of the medieval mystery plays.

For a theater director like Reinhardt, the performance in front of the cathedral took on a compelling logic. In the Middle Ages, games were played on the squares in front of the cathedrals, and Salzburg had a cathedral. Well then, long live the Pawlatschentheater! Fortunately, the liberal-minded Archbishop Ignaz Rieder did not raise an objection, but supported the plan to use the cathedral as a "stage design". He also approved of the idea of ​​having the bells of the cathedral "play along". Surprising possibilities opened up: You can let the warning voice of death sound from far outside, the sounds of the organ and choir can be heard from the open church portal, the pigeons rise when the church bells sound, the light effects of the sunset accompany the death of the rich man, theatrical effects that are effective to this day.

"It is admirable how Reinhardt performs services and celebrates theater."

Not all contemporaries realized that this unique setting brings out the religious dimension of “everyone” in an unsurpassable way. It is remarkable how broad the spectrum of reactions was, even within the Catholic community. "Think back, old episcopal city!" Complained the ultra-conservative critics. The fact that the Domplatz is used as a stage space, that the organ and bells are made available to secular art, is a “desecration of the church”. Drinkers at a table would have lost nothing in front of a church. Reinhardt was defamed as a circus impresario. But the audience, it wasn't international yet, but already came from Bavaria and Vienna, left the Domplatz in deep emotion. In the almost “worship-like atmosphere” (“New Free Press”) that hovered over the production, there was no applause.

For Max Reinhardt it was now clear that the performance of this Christian-Catholic mystery play on a secular stage would always be out of place. The special coloring in the unique urban context of this city increased its overwhelming dramaturgy.

"It is admirable how Reinhardt performs church services and celebrates theater, that the borders flow into one another," wrote Polgar, alluding to another sacred performance location, the Kollegienkirche, in which Reinhardt staged a play by Hofmannsthal in 1922, which he wrote freely after Calderon had: "The Salzburg Great World Theater". This time the archbishop was more hesitant, after all it was about the performance of a mystery play in front of an altar. Can the house of God become a hall for playing? Hofmannsthal flattered the clergyman, offered to accommodate the devout spectators even more by changing the text.

The temporary and improvisational were hallmarks of the venues.

Game in church. Finally a solution was found: the church was closed for necessary restoration anyway, and the performances could take place during this time. The proceeds from the proceeds could be used to renovate the church. The financial aspect joined Hofmannsthal's ideological concern. The proportions of the church interior were used optimally. The premiere was another highlight.

Horses had dominated the city of Salzburg for centuries. At the place of today's festival district, at the foot of the Mönchsberg, there was the royal court stables with marble feeding troughs, the address of the festival today, Hofstallgasse 1, refers to this. Max Reinhardt helped a new, unusual venue to break through. The Mönchsberg was fully booked here; in the 17th century it had served as a quarry for the construction of the cathedral. The episcopal summer and winter riding school for equestrian games, tournaments and animal fights was built in the spacious courtyard. According to plans by the baroque master builder Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, 96 three-storey arcades were carved into the walls of the abandoned quarry, from which the spectators could watch the spectacle. Reinhardt discovered this “Felsenreitschule” for the theater and staged Goldoni's “Servant of Two Masters” in front of the archaic backdrop in 1926, with a pawlatschen stage on tamped earth, the audience sat on wooden benches. The "Jedermann" was moved here when it rained. The temporary and improvised is also part of this venue. The way to a whole ensemble of venues, today's festival district, was still a long way off.


The festival district

The Great Festival Hall, the House for Mozart and the Felsenreitschule, together with the Domplatz 200 meters away and the Kollegienkirche, form the festival district today. Originally the stables that Archbishop Wolf Dietrich had built in the 17th century were here.

The area was gradually opened to the Salzburg Festival from 1925 onwards. The text opposite describes the years before, the founding period.