Vienna 1860 to 1914: Creativity, Culture, Science and Politics

Vienna 1860 to 1914: Creativity, Culture, Science and Politics

After World War I and the collapse of the Habsburg Empire, the building of an Austrian national identity and pride was assisted by the arts. The Salzburg Festival, first proposed in 1917 and begun in 1920, was conceived by its founders with this among its purposes. UNESCO, discussed by allied world leaders during World War II and established in its aftermath, was intended to advance education and culture internationally as tools of peace. Current examples of explicit political and social purpose in artistic initiatives are seen in the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and the Venezuelan-originated El Sistema projects.

This discussion explored the history of Austrian cultural institutions and artists through a period of enormous creativity prior to World War I, and politicization or sentiment at the time in favor of war. Were there forebodings before the war of things to come? What was the position of art and artists during wartime conflict? What are the expectations and responsibilities of artists in such times?

The panel also explored art as free expression versus propaganda. Art serves, is supported by and reflects its society. It may be more or less independent of deliberate influences. This in itself does not make the result good or bad art. Is all art essentially propaganda for its community?

The media also reflect society but, in a democratic and pluralistic society, we expect the media to satisfy an ethical standard beyond promoting prevailing government views and practices. Should, we expect better or different behavior from the creative community than from the general public? Is the difference between the diplomatic or social bridging use of art and its propagandistic misuse solely in the eye of the beholder? The panel will consider the constructive potential of the arts as a tool of diplomacy and for the harmonious integration of diversities - healing, bridging and preventing conflict.

This discussion also served as a backdrop for the further examination in Panel II of the post-World War I attitudes and actions of Austria’s artistic community and its institutions. Today, commemorative performances by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and other artists in Austria and elsewhere serve to stimulate a collective memory of past wrongs. Are these initiatives accomplishing their intended purpose of drawing lessons from history? Are they helping societies reconcile past differences? Do such commemorations serve to stimulate alertness to social and political forces that, left unaddressed, might lead to a repetition of painful past experiences? Or, do they stir up old grievances better left dormant?

Conditions contrary to those that spawned a golden age of creativity in “fin de siècle” Vienna are in evidence in some parts of contemporary Europe. What should be expected from the arts community in that regard form part of the discussion in Panel III.


  • Carol Off
    Moderator / CBC Radio Host, “As It Happens”

Panel Speakers: