Donaueschingen Festival

The Donaueschingen Festival (German: Donaueschinger Musiktage) is a festival for new music that takes place every October in the small town of Donaueschingen in south-western Germany. Founded in 1921, it is one of the oldest festivals for contemporary music in the world, and among the best-known and most prestigious.

Donaueschingen Festival
Pierre Boulez at the Donaueschingen Festival in 2008
GenreContemporary music
Location(s)Donaueschingen, Germany
Years active1921-present
Founded byDonaueschingen Society of Friends of Music
WebsiteOfficial website of the Donaueschingen Festival at SWR radio


In 1913, the Donaueschingen Society of Friends of Music was founded under the auspices of the House of Fuerstenberg. The idea soon arose to establish a small festival for presenting young and promising artists. A committee of distinguished musicians, among them Ferruccio Busoni, Joseph Haas, Hans Pfitzner, Arthur Nikisch and Richard Strauss, met in 1921 to discuss possible formats for the event.

The first concert was presented just a few months later. On 31 July 1921 the Donaueschingen Chamber Music Performances for the advancement of contemporary music gave world premiere performances of music by Alois Hába, Ernst Krenek and Paul Hindemith. Three years later, guest composers included Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, and Josef Matthias Hauer, who were among the main representatives of the Viennese twelve-tone technique. In 1925, the festival's scope expanded from presenting only chamber music to include choral works; one year later, the offerings included music for wind orchestra. With experimental forms of music and art such as Oskar Schlemmer's 'Triadic Ballet', the festival encompassed an increasingly wide range of activities and became more and more attractive to avant-garde composers and performers alike.

In 1927, the festival relocated to Baden-Baden. During the years 1931-1933, 1935, 1940-1945, and 1948-1949, all concerts were cancelled due to the overall national and international political situation. Instead of the original chamber music series, the National-Socialist party organized its own concerts from 1933 to 1935, called 'Donaueschingen Musical Celebration' or 'Old and new chamber-music from the Swabian-Alemannic region'.

After the war, the Society of Friends of Music was able to re-establish the festival under the name Donaueschingen Festival of Contemporary Music. A cooperative agreement between the Südwestfunk in Baden-Baden and its orchestra shifted the program emphasis to larger orchestral works. In 1951, Olivier Messiaen and his student Pierre Boulez offered new compositions, along with older works by Hindemith and Béla Bartók.

In 1972, the Karl Sczuka Prize for Hörspiel (radio play) was awarded for the first time during the festival. Since 1993, every festival has its own theme.

In 1998, South-West German Radio Baden-Baden became successor of Südwestfunk.

List of selected composers

1921: Alban Berg, Alois Hába, Ernst Krenek, Philipp Jarnach, Anton Webern, Arnold Schönberg, Josef Matthias Hauer, Paul Hindemith

1925: Hanns Eisler, Paul Dessau, Igor Stravinsky

1926: Paul Hindemith, Ernst Toch, Gerhart Münch

1927: Kurt Weill, Darius Milhaud, George Antheil

1951-1960: Pierre Boulez, Olivier Messiaen, Hans Werner Henze, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Luigi Nono, Earle Brown, John Cage, Henri Pousseur, Iannis Xenakis, Luciano Berio, Elliott Carter, Mauricio Kagel, Edgard Varèse, Krzysztof Penderecki, Wilhelm Killmayer

1961-1980: György Ligeti, Heinz Holliger, Alfred Schnittke, Dieter Schnebel, Wolfgang Rihm, Helmut Lachenmann, Hans Zender, Brian Ferneyhough, Peter Eötvös, Younghi Pagh-Paan

Since 1981: Peter Ablinger, Mark Andre, Julio Estrada, Dror Feiler, Klaus Huber, Benedict Mason, Thomas Meadowcroft, Olga Neuwirth, Frederic Rzewski, Marc Sabat, Elliott Sharp, Jörg Widmann


  • Josef Häusler: Spiegel der Neuen Musik: Donaueschingen. Chronik – Tendenzen – Werkbesprechungen. Kassel (1996) – ISBN 3-7618-1232-9
  • Bennwitz, Hanspeter: Donaueschingen und die Neue Musik 1921-1955. Donaueschingen (1955).

Further reading

  • Michael Wackerbauer: »Mythos Donaueschingen«. Zur Rolle einer Idee im Wandel von Festspielkonzeptionen, in Colloquium Collegarum. Festschrift für David Hiley zum 65. Geburtstag, hrsg. v. Wolfgang Horn/Fabian Weber (Regensburger Studien zur Musikgeschichte , Bd. 10), Tutzing 2013, p. 303-336, ISBN 978-3-86296-058-3
  • Michael Wackerbauer: Die Donaueschinger Musikfeste 1921 bis 1926. Regesten zu den Briefen und Dokumenten im Fürstlich-Fürstenbergischen Archiv mit einer historischen Einführung (Regensburger Studien zur Musikgeschichte, Bd. 12 ), Regensburg 2017, ISBN 978-3-940768-73-5

See also

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