The Edinburgh Festivals: Culture and Society in Postwar Britain

The Edinburgh Festivals: Culture and Society in Postwar Britain

The Edinburgh Festivals: Culture and Society in Postwar Britain

The Edinburgh Festivals: Culture and Society in Postwar Britain

Synopsis

Post-war culture and society and the Edinburgh Festivals. The Edinburgh Festival is the world's largest arts festival. It has also been the site of numerous 'culture wars' since it began in 1947. Key debates that took place across the western world about the place of culture in society, the practice and significance of the arts, censorship, the role of organised religion, and meanings of morality were all reflected in contest over culture in the Festival City.The Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama sought to use culture to bolster European civilisation, for which it was considered for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. The Church saw culture as a 'weapon of enlightenment', the labour movement as a 'weapon in the struggle', and the new generation of artistic entrepreneurs who came to the fore in the 1960s as a means of challenge and provocation, resulting in high profile controversies like the nudity trial of 1963 and the furore over a play about bestiality in 1967. These ideas - conservative and liberal, elite and diverse, traditional and avant-garde - all clashed every August in Edinburgh, making the Festival City an effective lens for exploring major changes in culture and society in post-war Britain. This book explores the 'culture wars' of 1945-1970 and is the first major study of the origins and development of this leading annual arts extravaganza.

Excerpt

On Sunday 24 August 1947, the first Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama opened with a service of praise in St Giles’ Cathedral, the Mother Kirk of Scottish Presbyterianism. Present at this ‘civic service of inauguration’ were members of the local authority, Edinburgh Corporation, dressed in their ermine-trimmed robes, ministers of the Church of Scotland, members of the Episcopal and Free churches, civic leaders from around Scotland, representatives of law, medicine and the arts, and all ‘distinguished visitors known to be in the City at that time’. This ceremony officially opened the new festival with hymns, prayers and a blessing, as well as what a critic for The Times described as music of the English Renaissance (Hubert Parry’s I Was Glad, normally used in royal coronations, and Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Te Deum). This, he wrote, ‘matched in sound the ocular splendour of official uniforms and academic robes’. the inaugural opening concert was performed by L’Orchestre des Concerts Colonne, while the full programme served up a rich feast of European high culture: the Hallé, Jacques, Liverpool Philharmonic and bbc Scottish orchestras were all represented; there was chamber music, morning concerts, recitals of Scottish song, and the Glyndebourne Opera presenting Macbeth and Le nozze di Figaro. Sadler’s Wells Ballet presented The Sleeping Beauty, and drama lovers could see the Old Vic doing The Taming of the Shrew and Richard ii as well as La Compagnie Jouvet de Théâtre de L’Athénée performing L’École des femmes and Giraudoux. a highlight of the inaugural event was the reunion of the Austrian composer Bruno Walter (who had been forced to emigrate, first to France and then to the United States, after the Nazi Anschluss of Austria in 1938) with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. the singer Kathleen Ferrier recalled:

It was unforgettable. the sun shone, the station was decked with flags, the
streets were gay. Plays and ballet by the finest artists were being performed,
literally morning, noon and night, and hospitality was showered upon guests
and visitors by the so-called ‘dour’ Scots! What a misnomer!

Stereotypes of ‘dour’ Scots abounded in Lionel Birch’s report for Picture Post. On arriving and seeing the ‘brave but stingy’ bunting on the roof of Waverley railway station, he wondered whether the whole Festival ‘wasn’t . . .

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