Wednesday, May 29, 2013
1957: Karajan And Szell In Salzburg
1957 was Karajan’s first year at the helm of the Salzburg Festival, and Karajan had coaxed from the festival’s organizers an enormous increase in the festival’s budget.
Five new opera productions were staged that year: Beethoven’s “Fidelio” conducted by Karajan; Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” conducted by Karl Böhm; Strauss’s “Elektra” conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos; Verdi’s “Falstaff” conducted by Karajan; and Rolf Liebermann’s “The School For Wives” conducted by Szell.
The Liebermann was a European premiere. The opera, incomprehensibly, had received its first performance in Louisville, Kentucky, two years earlier. (The opera was revised, and considerably lengthened, for its European premiere.)
Liebermann’s music was very much in fashion in the 1950s. The composer’s work was played everywhere, most likely because Liebermann’s music simply recycled and reordered the accepted clichés of the day . . . and because Liebermann was a master of the art of self-promotion.
Liebermann’s music is startlingly unoriginal and wholly derivative; he was the John Adams of his time. Performances of Liebermann’s music were completely to cease more than a quarter century before the composer’s death. Today Liebermann is remembered, to the extent he is remembered at all, as an opera impresario.
It would seem that Szell got the short end of the stick in 1957, having been assigned the least interesting work on that year’s festival program (although a legendary cast of singers might have made Szell’s work somewhat less dreary).
There were compensations: Szell was assigned the lion’s share of the festival’s orchestral concerts, three with the Berlin Philharmonic and one with the Vienna Philharmonic.
1957 was the first year in which orchestral concerts became a prime component of the Salzburg Festival, and 1957 was the first year in which the Berlin Philharmonic—or any visiting orchestra—participated in the festival.
The festival has presented orchestral concerts and visiting orchestras ever since.
The Liebermann notwithstanding, Szell got his reward.
Rolf Liebermann was a nephew of the great German painter, Max Liebermann.