The Salzburg Festival, 1938 this week. Touted as one of the great innovations in broadcasting, the idea that someone in Los Angeles could hear, as it was happening on stage, a portion of a Festival in Austria by way of a shortwave broadcast was a huge leap in bringing the world closer together via radio.
In this particular case, it was the fabled Salzburg Music Festival, with a performance of Act 3 of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The all-star cast, led by conductor Karl Böhm featured Ezio Pinza, Virgilio Lazzari, Anton Dermotta and Elizabeth Rethberg. Because Shortwave broadcasting was up to the whims of atmospheric conditions, the sound quality would be a crapshoot – if things were right, it sounded like it was recorded reasonably close – if they were bad, it would impossible to hear anything.
When Shortwave broadcasting became a routine feature on newscasts during the war, the atmospheric conditions played havoc with the ability to get consistently reliable reports from some of the major scenes of war activity, particularly from Russia.
But this is 1938 and things haven’t spilled into war yet. The Munich crisis which happened only months earlier was finally settled for the time being and a sense of normalcy had returned. However, it was that crisis which stimulated interest in the aspect of “being there” for listeners. And so the Summer of 1938 was given over to regular broadcasts (albeit abbreviated ones) from festivals like Salzburg. This one is from August 15, 1938.
I am not sure if this snippet has been available commercially or via collectors in any form. There appears to be (with the exception of the Poster which is featured here) only printed mentions of the 1938 season, but no recordings that I can find. I am sure other recordings of it exist someplace, at least I hope so. But if not, here is a wonderful and rare opportunity to hear the Pre-War Salzburg festival with some legendary names performing live.