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Theme: Edinburgh International Festival

The Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama was founded in 1947 with a remit ‘to provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit’ and enrich the cultural life of Scotland, Britain and Europe in the wake of World War Two, echoing the creation of the Salzburg Festival in 1920 after World War One. The idea was first conceived by Rudolf Bing, General Manager of Glyndebourne Opera Festival, the arts patron Lady Rosebery, theatre director Sir Tyrone Guthrie, and Audrey Mildmay (wife of John Christie) during a wartime tour of a small-scale Glyndebourne production of The Beggar’s Opera.

Bing conceived of the festival to heal the wounds of war through the languages of the arts. This was its principal raison d’être. It was first financed by Lord Rosebery with the £10,000 winnings of his horse Ocean Swell that won the only two major horse-races run in wartime including the Jockey Club Cup in 1944. This sum was matched by Edinburgh Town Council and then some money in turn was matched by the Arts Council of Great Britain under the chairmanship of John Maynard Keynes.

From the beginning, the festival had a broad coverage, but with an emphasis on music and opera, the latter provided by Glyndebourne.  The first year reunited the Vienna Philharmonic with Bruno Walter in a legendary performance of Das Lied von der Erde with Kathleen Ferrier and Peter Pears.  Other leading conductors in the early years included Wilhelm Furtwängler, John Barbirolli, Thomas Beecham, Adrian Boult, Fritz Busch, Josef Krips, Pierre Monteux and Vittorio Gui.  Notable singers were Lotte Lehmann and Ljuba Welitsch, and the rising generation of Victoria de los Angeles, Boris Christoff, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.  Instrumentalists included Artur Schnabel, Joseph Szigeti, Claudio Arrau, Rudolf Serkin, Isaac Stern, Pierre Fournier and Yehudi Menuhin.  When Bing left in 1950 to run the Metropolitan Opera New York, he was succeeded by Ian Hunter.  He in turn was followed by Robert Ponsonby, whose tenure from 1956 to 1960 included the visit of La Scala Milan in 1957 with four operas and a company led by Maria Meneghini Callas and Giuseppe di Stefano; and of the Royal Swedish Opera with another four operas in 1960.

The arrival of Lord Harewood as Director introduced thematic programming, with each year from 1961 to 1965 focusing on the compositions of two contrasting composers, including the bold choices of Schoenberg in his first festival and of Shostakovich in his second.  1964 brought Prague National Theatre for the first time, featuring Janáček; and 1965 paired Schubert and Britten.  Harewood also programmed innovative spoken theatre and art exhibitions but, because this period was a golden era for music, initially Music Preserved will be choosing to concentrate its offer mainly on live recordings from this period.

Harewood was succeed by Peter Diamand, former director of the Holland Festival, who continued to attract leading artists to the festival between 1966 and 1978, from which time we hope in future to offer a selection of recordings.  He in turn was followed by John Drummond, then theatre director Frank Dunlop, before the distinguished tenure of Brian McMaster, a former Music Preserved Council member, between 1992 and 2006.  Subsequent directors have been Australian composer Jonathan Mills, Irish theatre producer Fergus Linehan, and today Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti.

Nicholas Payne

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