Es ‘steht ein kleiner Pavillon, und welches Wunder, er ist fertig schon’ – ‘There stands a little pavilion, and what a wonder, it’s already done’ – sang the cabaret artist Hermann Leopoldi on the occasion of the opening of the Austrian pavilion at the Paris World’s Fair in June 1937. He had thus taken his share in the ‘image construction’ of the Austrofascist regime, by hailing one of its landmarks. While civil war was shaking Spain, Stalinist terror was raging in the Soviet Union, and fascist Italy and Nazi Germany had suppressed almost all resistance, Austria appeared consolidated and peaceful. The uprising of the Social Democrats in February 1934 had been crushed, all parties since been banned, the rule of law been eliminated. Nevertheless, communists and socialists continued to resist, and illegal, yet tolerated Nazis successfully undermined the state. The Austrian ‘Ständestaat,’ the Corporate State, as it called itself, was unable to completely control cultural activity; while censorship and repression were nevertheless present, best described in Robert Musil’s words as an ‘evil spiritlessness.’ But even if a subliminal counter-reformation, with its emphasis on the Baroque and the sacred, was the state’s cultural leitmotif, a moderate modernism remained possible. The hesitant toleration of it, combined with a recourse to the imperial past, furthered the contradiction between defining Austria on its terms and seeing it as the better Germany, characterised the ambivalence of Austrofascist cultural politics.
One of Austria’s most established cultural highlights each summer is the Salzburg Festival of music and drama. Taking place annually since 1920, the festival was the brainchild of the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874–1929) and the director Max Reinhardt (1873–1943), who sought to give a new lease of life to Austrian culture after the collapse of the Habsburg Empire. In his ground-breaking analysis of the festival’s early days, the historian Michael P. Steinberg has shown that Hoffmannsthal conceived of the event as an affirmation of a new Austrian identity, which aimed to merge a cosmopolitan outlook with a deep Catholicism and sense of greater German identity. This sense of ‘national cosmopolitanism’ as a new Austrian culture was also anchored in the turn away from the old imperial capital Vienna – located Austrian identity instead in Salzburg, a former independent prince-archbishopric and Baroque city in the Austrian alps. The festival thus manifested a different kind of modernity in Austrian interwar culture – one that embraced conservatism and nationalism as a significant part of its post-imperial identity.