November 9, 2000

Prof. Receives Award for Book on Austrian Culture

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The Victor Adler Staatspreis, an Austrian prize for the best historical work, was recently awarded to Prof. Michael Steinberg, history, for his book Austria as Theater and Ideology: The Meaning of the Salzburg Festival.

Published in 1990 in the United States, Steinberg’s book was published in German for the first time earlier this year.

Steinberg stated that he was “both pleased and surprised” to be the recipient of the award. In his book, Steinberg discusses the history and significance of the Salzburg Music Festival, the world’s most famous music festival.

The Festival was founded in 1920 after the fall of the Austrian Hapsburg Empire. “The festival [was started] to show that Austria was still important and to show what Austrian culture was about,” Steinberg said.

In writing this book, Steinberg said that he sought to find out whether analysis of this one event, the Festival, could provide understanding about the relationship between Austria’s culture and its politics.

Though Steinberg’s book was first published ten years ago, it has become more relevant to Austrian politics in recent years.

Austrian President Thomas Klestil opened the Salzburg Festival in July 1999 with a speech describing the Festival as a symbol of traditional and conservative values and as the direction in which he felt Austria should move, according to Steinberg.

However, in response, Gerard Mortier, director of the festival, argued that in his speech, the Austrian President had falsely interpreted the cultural values of the Salzburg Festival, Steinberg said. Mortier also argued, drawing from Steinberg’s work, that the speech reminded him of how in 1938 the festival was falsely interpreted to legitimize the Nazi regime, according to Steinberg.

“When people analyze the cultural depth of a society, political questions don’t always surface, though they are always there. Now they are surfacing, and the book is more current now than it was ten years ago,” Steinberg commented.

Steinberg expressed his belief that Klestil’s speech, coupled with the subsequent rise of the right-wing Freedom Party in Austria’s Oct. 1999 elections, created new relevance for his book in terms of Austria’s current political debates.

Steinberg’s book was reissued in September of this year by Cornell University Press with a new preface addressing the present political climate in Austria.

Steinberg will travel to Vienna in April 2001, where the Austrian Minister of Education will officially present him with the award.

Archived article by Lindsay Lippman