"The Everest of Sacred Music"
by Ken Myers
The city of Salzburg has a rich religious and cultural history. Today, its cultural identity and legacy are most dramatically expressed by the annual Salzburg Festival, first held in 1920. The idea for that prestigious event began gestating during the First World War. It combined a late-nineteenth-century dream of founding an annual Mozart Festival—to honor the city's most celebrated musical native son—with an early-twentieth-century eagerness to confront the sense of foreboding evoked by the war. The suffering, destruction, and chaos unleashed by the scale of international conflict was something of an anti-sacrament: an outward and visible sign of an inward absence, the ghostly vacuum left by the loss of meaning felt by modern Western institutions and intellectuals.
A rising tide of nihilism was washing away the security that had long been maintained by the confidences of Christendom. Foundational beliefs were now discredited and dismantled, having been deemed naive and immature. The Salzburg Festival was hopefully envisioned to be "as it were the Olympic Games of Art in the modern era" (in the words of Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig): a series of artistic performances around which could be imagined a source of unity and common humanity.
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Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.
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