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The economic boom in Western Europe led to the founding of many festivals. Aix-en-Provence, Glyndebourne and Edinburgh had been rivalling Salzburg ever since 1950; a year later, in 1951, the re-opening of the Bayreuth Festival hit the headlines. The Salzburg Festival endeavoured to reinforce and enhance its reputation with a dual strategy: on the one hand, it put the accent on the contemporary repertoire, on the other, it presented the classics in exemplary productions.

The Festival also broke ground in organization: on 12 July 1950, the National Council passed the law for the founding of a Salzburg Festival Fund sponsored by the Federal Government, the State and the City of Salzburg, and also by the Salzburg Tourism Sponsoring Fund. The Festival was thus given a permanent legal basis.

A political scandal rocked the Festival in 1951: Gottfried von Einem had commissioned the dramatist Bertolt Brecht to write a play for the Salzburg Festival which would replace Jedermann/Everyman. Brecht, who had returned from American exile, saw a perspective in Salzburg for his work and applied for Austrian citizenship, which he received in 1950. In the following months, Brecht intensified his contact to the cultural authorities in the GDR. At the peak of the Cold War, the Salzburg people took this as an affront. Brecht decided to do without the exalted position promised by Salzburg. Gottfried von Einem, who supported Brecht to the very end, was excluded from the Festival’s Board of Directors at the end of October 1951. A stir was also caused in 1951 by the first performance of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, conducted by Karl Böhm. The modern age had arrived in Salzburg.

Starting in the mid-1950s, the Festival management tussled over Furtwängler’s successor, a duel between Böhm and Karajan. In autumn 1955, negotiations were initiated with Karajan, who made wide-ranging demands and claimed the power of monopoly in making decisions. In March 1956 came the announcement that Karajan was appointed Artistic Director starting in 1957. Karajan’s era began with a bang in 1957: he conducted and stage-directed Beethoven’s Fidelio and Verdi’s Falstaff. He brought ‘his’ orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, for five concerts to the Salzach and initiated a series that is still running today.

A central course was also set in the decision to build another festival theatre on the grounds of the old court stables, which was put into motion in 1956 based on plans by Clemens Holzmeister.