The thorny history of the Salzburg Festival logo
SALZBURG, Austria – The venerable Salzburg Festival logo is a must-see here during the summer months. It is attached to buses and flanks the busy sidewalks of the Staatsbrücke bridge. It’s on wristbands, worker uniforms and windows, in tourist brochures and hotel lobbies.
The logo – with the silhouette of the Hohensalzburg fortress; the regional flag of Salzburg; and a Greek theatrical mask, all superimposed on a gold background – had remarkable resistance. First seen on a poster for the 1928 iteration, it was quickly adopted as the permanent symbol of the festival, with the exception of the Nazi era. However, its history, and in particular that of its creator, was not fully known until recently.
The Salzburg Festival commissioned a report on the origins of the logo for its centenary last year, a jubilee that has lasted until this summer due to the pandemic. The research revealed new information about the life of its creator, artist Leopoldine Wojtek, who started out as a Modernist but whose work took on a conservative and Nazi-sympathetic turn in the 1930s, and who was married to one of the party’s most prolific art looters. and intriguing.
It is a story that raises questions about cultural memory in a country that was slow to report its history in the years leading up to and following the Anschluss – the annexation of Austria by Germany – in 1938. But the Salzburg Festival, in a sense, has been here before, given the heavy Nazi-era legacy of some of its most prominent artists, most notably conductors Karl Böhm and Herbert von Karajan .
Long-time festival president Helga Rabl-Stadler designed the report – which consists of an investigative account by Professor Oliver Rathkolb of the University of Vienna and an artistic assessment by designer Anita Kern – ten years ago, during the 90th anniversary celebrations of the festival. , as she learned some of the disturbing details of Wojtek’s biography.
“I would have had a bad conscience if we had only shown the good sides of our past,” she said in an interview. “We are really interested in unveiling our history, because in reality the Salzburg Festival is not just a hundred years of festival, but a hundred years of cultural history of Europe. “
It’s a story worth telling amid far-right responses to the pandemic and the global rise of anti-government populist movements. “We have to remind people that we have had this story before,” Rathkolb said. “This period before 1938 is even more interesting than the Nazi period because it shows how quickly a parliamentary democracy can change.
THE REPORT START with a simple biography. Wojtek, known as Poldi, was born in 1903 in Brno, Moravia. His father was a German nationalist aloud, and later, as a resident of Salzburg, greeted the Nazi encroachment with an opportunistic spirit. His sister too – but not his brother, Wilhelm, who refused to join the party but was drafted into military service and died a bitter, disabled war veteran.
Wojtek attended a girls’ school in Salzburg before studying at a vocational school in Czechoslovakia, then at the Kunstgewerbeschule, or Arts Vocational School, in Vienna, where his teachers included the design luminary Josef Hoffmann. Kern said that at that time she “was surrounded by real avant-garde people”, but that, compared to her colleagues, “she was a very conservative modernist”.
She returned to Salzburg and by her early twenties was already dealing with local projects such as frescoes and exhibition posters in modernist fashion which she eventually submitted to a design competition for the 1928 edition of the Salzburg Festival.
The history of the contest is hazy – and suspicious, likely involving interference from Kajetan Mühlmann, Wojtek’s future husband, although it is not clear whether they were in a relationship at the time. What we do know is that the competition, open to students of the Kunstgewerbeschule, has been extended to three young graduates, including Wojtek. She did not initially rank first, but for some reason several models were sent back to the artists for “certain modifications.” When the new posters were presented to the jury, Wojtek was named the winner.
“The competition had a clear number 1: Hanns Köhler,” said Rathkolb. “It was a shooting star. Then you can see from the records that Mühlmann was very difficult having a second round. “
In his report, Kern describes the poster as simply “typical for its time.” Rathkolb assumes that the jury preferred Wojtek to be a local artist whose family had an established reputation.
With some modifications, the poster became the logo of the festival. The white stripes at the top – used in 1928 to list festival leaders Max Reinhardt, Franz Schalk and Bruno Walter – were made bare and the dates at the bottom removed, but otherwise the original design remained in use, much longer than most logos.
This is the most enduring proof of Wojtek’s modernism, which weakened over the next decade. In 1932 she married Mühlmann, who had worked for the association supporting the Salzburg Festival and the Austrian Publicity Bureau – whose meeting records reveal incidents of lavish and irregular spending. He resigned from that post in 1934, when he began to gain favor with the Nazi Party.
Prior to 1938, however, Nazi ideology was illegal in Austria – which got in trouble for Mühlmann and prevented Wojtek from putting her name on the Adolf Hitler Illustrated Children’s Biography that she created in 1936. At this point stage, his work became “stale,” Kern concludes in his report, adding that the additional drawings from this era were “more static and compact than his free and easy 1920s illustrations.”
Why Wojtek’s work took such a turn is not clear. It could be because of Mühlmann, who became a friend of Hermann Göring, for whom he plundered art all over Europe. But there is evidence that Wojtek did not change just under the influence of her husband.
In 1941, she was directly involved in the so-called Aryanization of a house near Anif confiscated from Jewish artist Helene von Taussig, who later died in Izbica transit camp in occupied Poland. the Germans. At the time, the practice of Aryanization was suspended until the end of the war, but Wojtek, Rathkolb said, “wanted this house at all costs.”
“Right here, she was the driving force, ”he added. “She more or less used Mühlmann to get there. She had no ethical shame.
It is therefore ironic that the poster for Wojtek’s Salzburg Festival was quickly withdrawn after the Anschluss; it wasn’t degenerate, but it was uncomfortably modern for the Nazis. It has been replaced by something more in keeping with the aesthetic of the party, which Kern describes as “a representation of Mozart as the character of Apollo naked with a lyre”.
Wojtek’s design wouldn’t come back until after the war. By this time, she and Mühlmann had divorced; he had started a second family with a woman in the late 1930s. Wojtek was forced to leave the house she had stolen and the United States returned it to Taussig’s heirs in 1945.
Yet Wojtek escaped denazification. Despite his proximity to the party, his membership was never dealt with; Rathkolb could not find it in the party file in Berlin. She is classified as “less incriminated” and can vote again in 1949. She finds a new partner in the artist Karl Schatzer, and in their joint workshop, they organize painting, illustration and ceramics courses.
She received local honors over the years – including the Max Reinhardt Medal, named after the founder of the Salzburg Festival who, as a Jewish artist, was forced into exile – and died in 1978.
WOJTEK BIOGRAPHY was neglected in the decades that followed. This, Rathkolb said, is in line with Austria’s wider reluctance to consider its history during the Nazi era, as the country has long hid behind the popular “victim theory” to exonerate it. of its responsibility.
The logo has changed little. At one point, a fifth white band was added at the top to make it look like a musical staff, but it was removed soon after. Kern, for his part, isn’t even sure whether the logo can be described as good, or that his mask images still correspond to a festival that has become known more for music than theater. “Mainly,” she said, “it works because it’s so well known.
But its future is assured.
“We talked about it and our opinion has always been: this logo is not Nazi propaganda,” said Rabl-Stadler. “It’s a logo in the spirit of the best times of Austrian graphics. If there was any doubt that you could misinterpret it, we would have deleted it.
Instead, Wojtek joins the crowd of artists at the festival whose names now come with caveats. His story is included in the current exhibition “Everyman’s Jews: 100 Years of the Salzburg Festival”, at the Jewish Museum in Vienna. This show was invited by Rabl-Stadler, said Marcus Patka, one of its curators, who added that this was a positive sign given that “there is still a lot of silence” at Salzburg about the Nazi era.
Here in town, Wojtek does not have a street or square that bears his name. As a person without artistic influence, we don’t talk about her. His burial place was only uncovered by the festival while the report was being researched, although it is in the Petersfriedhof cemetery, a short walk from his premises.
The tomb is difficult to find: between two paths, on uneven ground which becomes dangerous in the rain. With no known surviving family members, the stone fell into disuse. Only with effort can you distinguish the faded sculpture from its name.
Upon exiting the cemetery on the Toscaninihof, however, the Salzburg Festival logo is again a must-see. And there, under the white of its flag, the name could not be clearer: “WOJTEK”.