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Edinburgh International Festival

The post-war years have seen a great growth in the number of arts festivals in Britain and other European countries. Among them the Edinburgh International Festival has now firmly established its reputation as one of the foremost events of its kind in the world. This is not surprising because everything in the arts, if it is first-class, is potentially an Edinburgh Festival attraction. On most evenings during the festival there are as many as six events to choose from on the official programme: symphony concerts, ballets, plays, recitals - all given by the finest artistes in the world.

The idea of the festival originated in the first post-war year. All over Europe rationing and restrictions were the order of the day, and hundreds of towns lay in ruins. It is in this setting that the festival was planned. Its founders had many difficulties to face, not the least of them being the fact that this was something Edinburgh and indeed Scotland had never previously known. Nor have been the problems solved even today, for example the King's Theatre where operas and ballets are staged during the festival is completely inadequate for the purpose, and the administration finds it increasingly more difficult to get companies to perform there.

The Festival was inaugurated in 1947. Glyndebourne Opera, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the Old Vic Theatre and Sadler's Wells Ballet* were only a few of the participants of this first venture. The Festival was a success, and has been held annually ever since.

* (Sadler's Wells Ballet - the Sadler's Wells Theatre in London, specializes in opera in English and in ballet.)

The festival is quite international in its character giving as a rule a varied representation of artistic production from a number of countries, and over the past few years.it has had a definite theme, that is the work of one or two composers was studied in depth. In 1961, for instance, it gave a comprehensive view of Arnold Schoenberg* whereas 1962 saw a similar treatment given to the music of the famous Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich. A great number of his works ranging from symphonies and operatic excerpts to string quartets, songs and piano pieces were included in the programme. Leading Soviet artistes, among them David Oistrakh, Sviatoslav Richter, and the conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvenski, were heard not only in the music of Shostakovitch, but in music from the general repertory. In 1969 the theme of the festival was a country - Italy. One of the items on the programme was the Florence Opera, which performed four operas including, very appropriately, Donizetti's Maria Stuarta. Three eminent Italian conductors - Abbado, Erede, and Guilini conducted concerts with Italian music in them.

* (Shoenberg (1874-1951) - an Austrian-born American composer.)

The festival has done a great deal in the development of arts in Scotland. In addition to establishing the Scottish Festival Chorus, it helped to develop the Scottish opera and the Scottish National Orchestra which started by giving only occasional light concerts in the festival, but was recently able to launch the festival with Mahler's massive Eighth Symphony.

One of the reasons for the festival's success is that it is easy for the visitors to make their arrangements, since Festival programmes are published as early as March, and the booking opens soon afterwards, at the beginning of April. The Festival Society which takes care of all these matters not only arranges for the visitors' tickets but also reserves accommodation.

An attraction for those visitors who enjoy a colourful if rather noisy spectacle is the Military Tattoo* which has become a regular feature of the Edinburgh Festival. It is staged on the Esplanade against the background of a floodlit castle. This pompous military display strikes, however, a discordant note in the framework of a festival devoted entirely to arts.

* (Tattoo - a military display or pageant accompanied by music; literally, a signal on a drum or bugle calling soldiers and sailors back for the nigh.)

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