Saturday, August 17, 2013

Hans Knappertsbusch At The 1941 Salzburg Festival

Conductor Hans Knappertsbusch in conversation with Hermann Wiedemann during a rehearsal of Richard Strauss’s “Der Rosencavalier” (Wiedemann was to sing the role of Faninal) at the 1941 Salzburg Festival.

The official history of the Salzburg Festival portrays the 1941 season as a grim one:

Audiences consisted mainly of soldiers, whether on leave or recovering from wounds, and workers from German and Italian munitions factories. The Festival functioned as a sort of psychological weapon of domestic warfare and manipulation: as catastrophe loomed ever larger on the horizon, the people’s morale had to be shored up and their worries dispelled.

The official history’s characterization of the period is wrong. It is worse than inaccurate, worse than revisionist, worse than foolish—it is completely fictive.

In August 1941, German forces were proceeding from triumph to triumph in North Africa and throughout Russia. Germany’s advances seemed unstoppable; the high-water mark of German conquest had yet to be achieved. The mood of the populace of the Reich was euphoric. Only in December 1941, with America’s entry into the war and the onset of winter weather halting advances on The Eastern Front, did the public mood in the Reich become restrained.

The 1941 Salzburg Festival in no way reflected wartime conditions or wartime austerity. The Festival that year introduced two new Mozart productions, both conducted by Karl Böhm, to mark the 150th anniversary of the composer’s death: “Le nozze di Figaro” and “Die Zauberflöte”. They were joined by a revival of another Mozart opera, “Don Giovanni”.

A sign that war privations were far, far into the future: the Salzburg Festival was to introduce yet another new production of “Le nozze di Figaro” (directed by Walter Felsenstein) in 1942, the second such new production in two seasons; and the Salzburg Festival was to introduce yet another new production of “Die Zauberflöte” in 1943, the second such new production in three seasons. Lavish expenditures for new productions of the same works, in close succession, do not bespeak a nation yet imperiled by—or even aware of—looming catastrophe.

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