Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Translation of a Telegram from Thomas Bernhard to Josef Kaut, President of the Salzburg Festival

Bernhard Sends Kaut a Telegram [1]

President Kaut, the Salzburg Festival

With a cool head I must describe today’s Festival administration-penned public diatribe against Claus Peymann and his ensemble as an infamy and its circumstances as revolting on every level.  You, the Festival administration, accuse Claus Peymann and his ensemble of breach of contract and you yourself broke your contract with Claus Peymann when you first of all broke your promise at the dress rehearsal—same reality in the première as in the dress rehearsal—at the last minute and [with great] devious[ness] and thereby imperiled the entire première and falsified the conclusion of the play through your scandalous intervention.  You yourself admitted in a conference with me after the première that you had deceived Peymann in order to safeguard the première.  Via your ambush of an intervention—and quite apart from the fact that the set designer Karl-Ernst Hermann was beaten up by unknown parties behind the scenes, a criminal act from which you have so far not distanced yourself—you have categorically inculpated yourselves of breach of confidence and [also], via your arrogant cancellation of future performances, of breach of contract.
The breach of contract is entirely on your part and not on the part of the ensemble, whom I advise to insist [on undertaking] all future performances at the state theater.  We are dealing here with the austerity and the incorruptibility of a nerve-racking art and its principl[es] and not with the common [subject-matter] of some unsavory human-interest daily.  If you should actually cancel the performances, you, and hence the Festival administration, [will be] guilty of breach of contract, and with respect to everything—even the damages previously incurred.  [It is] not the ensemble, but rather you who are responsible for the hoaxing of the public.  In these horrible circumstances it is only fitting for the director and the cozened performers to lodge a legal complaint against the Festival administration, because Peymann and his actors, whom I stand by a hundred percent, are categorically in the right, a fact that you personally through your false and, I must say it yet again, infamous braggadocio, are slyly endeavoring to conceal.

Thomas Bernhard

[1] Editors’ note: First printed in Oberösterreichische Nachrichten [Upper-Austrian News], 9 August 1972.  The editors of the paper prefixed the reprint of the telegram with a note:
“At about 5 p.m. on Monday, after the withdrawal of his drama The Ignoramus and the Madman from the program of the current season of the Salzburg Festival, Thomas Bernhard, the author of the play [sic on the redundant attribution (DR)] transmitted to the president of the Festival, Josef Kaut, the following telegram, which was also delivered to the Austrian Press Agency verbatim and with permission to circulate.”

The editors appended to the telegram this remark: “We shall address the entire affair again in more detail upon the subsidence of the waves stirred up by this initial altercation, whose full legal repercussions remain to be seen.”  

Thomas Bernhard refers to the “emergency lighting scandal” at the July 29, 1972 Salzburg Festival première of his play The Ignoramus and the Madman (directed by Claus Peymann, set designs by Karl-Ernst Hermann), during which, in defiance of the author’s stage directions for the conclusion, “total darkness” failed to prevail: the emergency lights remained switched on.  Thereupon the director and performers declined to give any further performances unless the emergency lights were switched off.  As a result, on August 2, 1972, Bernhard wired the following message to the president of the Festival: “a community that cannot bear two minutes darkness stop can get by without my play stop my commitment to director and actors one hundred percent stop they make uncompromising decision re future performances.”  Kaut refused to bear the cost of any fines and so the first performance remained the only one (although one further performance was recorded for broadcast on television).  Thereupon the Festival sued the director and performers for damages resulting from breach of contract; the defendants in turn lodged their own complaint against the Festival.         


Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2013 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Der Wahrheit auf der Spur.  Reden, Leserbriefe, Interviews, Feuilletons.  Herausgegeben von  Wolfram Bayer, Raimund Fellingerund und Martin Huber [Stalking the Truth.  Speeches, Open Letters, Interviews, Newspaper Articles.  Edited by Wolfram Bayer et al.](Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2011).

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