Scotsman 200: Capital flourishes as city of festivals

To mark the 200th anniversary of The Scotsman, we are dipping into our archives to bring you a selection of some of the biggest stories of the last two centuries. This month we have recalled Scotland's arts scene, reproducing The Scotsman's original coverage of many of the most memorable events from the stage and screen to exhibitions, concerts and Edinburgh's festivals. Today's topic is Edinburgh's festivals. The first Edinburgh International Festival of Music, Art and Drama in August and September 1947 was the result of two years of planning by a committee that was formed in 1945 with the aim of creating a new post-war identity for the capital as 'the cultural resort of Europe'. The inaugural Edinburgh International Film Festival was held the same year and has become the world's longest continually running film festival. Since its inception in 1983, the Edinburgh International Book Festival has filled Charlotte Square Gardens with a tented village of venues. The festival 'family' has grown considerably over the years to include more events than there is space to do justice.

Bruno Walter and Kathleen Ferrier performed at the opening of the International Festival in the Usher Hall.
Bruno Walter and Kathleen Ferrier performed at the opening of the International Festival in the Usher Hall.

Saturday, 4 January, 1947

Edinburgh International Festival

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Two big exhibitions to be held concurrently in city

Two notable exhibitions are to fit into Edinburgh’s big-scale programme for next year’s International Festival of Music, Art, and Drama which is to make the city “a magnet that will attract people from all over the world.”

The quoted phrase was used by Professor Charles Sarolea when, heading a visit of members of the Consular Corps in the city to the City Chambers yesterday, he conveyed to Lord Provost Sir John I. Falconer their New Year greetings.

The Lord Provost, outlining the extension of the Festival arrangements, stated that the Chamber of Commerce will present a very large Exhibition of Industries, Arts, and Crafts, for which it is hoped to use the windows of the shops along the whole length of Princes Street, and the Council of Design and Industry hope to hold an exhibition in the Royal Scottish Museum which will present Scotland in all its aspects.

The Lord Provost, in thanking the Consular Corps for offering the goodwill of the countries they represent, said that it was only on the basis of greater friendship that lasting peace could be expected.

They must find a starting-place for the new era and translate into action their desire that their people should inter-mingle and pursue in unison the road to prosperity.

With that in view, they proposed next summer to hold in Edinburgh an International Festival of Music, Art and Drama.

“That is also very much our concern, for the future of our countries is inextricably interwoven and the prosperity of one affects the prosperity of all.

We have fixed the last week of August 1947 as the date upon which we will definitely direct our steps towards this new future, a future in which we will, together, develop those things which will invigorate our trade.

“We will use this great event, when the finest music and drama will be presented, as a focus at which not only will those accomplishments be encouraged and enjoyed, but a great opportunity will be presented for showing the arts and crafts and industries of our country, and when business men and traders of all countries meet in a happy and fresh atmosphere to discuss questions of sale and exchange.”

The Lord Provost mentioned that members of the Consular Corps would shortly receive the brochure showing that part of the event which belonged to the musical festival proper and which would last for three weeks, from 24th August to 12th September.

It was under the patronage of the King and Queen. The programme would commence with a great service of praise in St Giles’ Cathedral. Every day for those three weeks there would be performances of opera and drama and of chamber music.

There would be recitals and orchestral concerts, given by, among others, the Vienna Orchestra, conducted by Bruno Waller; L’Orchestre Colonne, conducted by Paul Parri; the Hallé, the Liverpool, the Scottish, and the B.B.C. Scottish Orchestra.

These together would present a festival of a quality beyond any that had ever been held in the British Isles.

“It will be held,” added the Lord Provost, “with the advantage of the background of this old city, with its ancient castle, its palace, its courtyard and its gardens, all of which we hope will be at the disposal of the visitor and will form an incomparable relief of history and beauty and romance.”

Friday, 8 August, 1947

Queen’s visit to Festival

Her Majesty to attend three performances

It was announced last night that the Queen will visit the International Festival of Music and Drama in Edinburgh on September 6, 8 and 9 and, among the three performances which she will attend will be that of Verdi’s “Macbeth” by the Glyndebourne Opera Company at the King’s Theatre on September 8.

On September 6, Her Majesty will hear the Glasgow Orpheus Choir in the Usher Hall, and on September 9, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, also in the Usher Hall.

It was intimated during the recent visit of the Royal Family to Edinburgh that the Queen would come to the city for the Festival, and last night, Lord Provost Sir John Falconer told The Scotsman that Her Majesty had made particular inquiries as to the prospects of its success and had expressed enthusiasm and delight at the decision to hold it in Edinburgh.

“Her Majesty,” he stated, “took the latest brochure away with her so that she might study it most carefully, and I know she was looking forward with very great pleasure to attending as many performances as she could manage. Every arrangement will be made for her comfort and convenience, and Edinburgh is delighted and honoured that she should come.”

Saturday, 18 August, 1956

Cinema at its best: Film Festival’s Impact

By Our Film Critic

No longer a specialist festival to the extent that it is devoted to one aspect of the cinema, the Edinburgh Film Festival remains a specialist’s event. While it attracts film makers and critics and so-called “students of the cinema,” what impact does it make on the far larger ranks of those who enjoy and admire good films?

The product of local enterprise and devotion, it commands international attention, but insufficient local support. That it is regarded by some as a “side-show” of the larger Festival is an indication of Edinburgh’s attitude to one of its prize possessions.

Not only on Sundays, but every day, should it be possible to fill one of the largest cinemas in the city.

Perhaps the wide variety of “live” counter-attractions prevents this, but the fault could also lie in the Film Festival’s proud boast that it takes the cinema seriously.

It takes the view, very properly, that cinema is a creative art and not merely a means of passing time. But many film-goers obtain the impression that – in contrast to the flimsy glamour of some other European film festivals – it is an orgy of gloom and sombre realism. This is true to a very limited degree; the great merit of the Festival is that it can combine stark observation with the finest entertainment – in fact, present the cinema at its best. In prospect, this year’s programme would appear to maintain such a standard. The festival begins spectacularly to-morrow night at the Caley Cinema with the world première of “Lust for Life” – an American film based on the life of Vincent Van Gogh. With Kirk Douglas in the part of the painter, and Vincente Minnelli directing, this is likely to be an outstanding film and one of the festival’s greatest events.

Some of the gloss has been rubbed off “Invitation to the Dance,” the film chosen for Monday’s Royal performance at the New Victoria, as it has already been shown and reviewed in the United States and at the Berlin Film Festival.

The presence of Gene Kelly, its director, choreographer and star, will, however embellish a notable occasion.

Monday, 20 August, 1956

Gene Kelly at first performance

Gene Kelly, director and star of “Invitation to the Dance,” the film which the Queen will see to-day at the New Victoria Cinema, was present at last night’s opening performance of the Film Festival. He made an appearance on the stage of the Caley Cinema before the showing of “Lust for Life.”

Wednesday, 2 September, 1998

So how was it for her then?

By Catherine Lockerbie

It is axiomatic that when the Festival ends, autumn begins.

The effect is exaggerated with the Book Festival. The tents appear, a literary carnival.

When they leave, the seasons lurch forward. On cue yesterday, the rain came down in grim stair-rods on the green grass and empty marquees of Charlotte Square, time soon to be measured in the falling of leaves from trees rather than the turning of leaves of books.

The memories, though, are far from melancholy. This has been a seminal and highly successful year for the Book Festival. Seminal, because this has been the first year of a new director for a new millennium, Faith Liddell, and the first year of an annual, rather than biennial, event; successful because takings are well up in a difficult climate.

Success need not be measured purely in monetary terms, however much sponsors and public funding bodies may wish it to be so.

Authors, audiences and media commentators are in agreement that there is a new sense of dynamism and purpose to the Book Festival, an inclusive, eclectic, argumentative new edge to the programming.

Faith Liddell’s declared preference is for debate, cross-fertilisation, the buzzing interchange of ideas: that is, a proper festival rather than a string of isolated authors reading to predetermined audiences who then troop politely homewards once more. This has worked well.

One of the amusements of the Book Festival may be playing match-the-author; see the audience, guess the writer – the elderly ladies for Rosamunde Pilcher, the twentysomething guys in jeans and T-shirts (nothing too daring, of course) for Nick Hornby.

One of the excitements, however, is to see how often the audience confounds all reductive, pigeon-holing predictions. Book-festival goers are, on this year’s evidence, liberal, adventurous, independent-minded. They are frequently tolerant to a fault, too. Faith Liddell spotted one lady of a certain age marching away early from a session with a catastrophically drunk Bruce Robinson; immediately and anxiously, she offered the lady her money back. “No, no dear,” said the lady, “You take your chances”: a perfect exemplar of the true, intrepid Book Festival spirit.

Thus, the heart may be wholly warmed by seeing grey-haired habitues of Jenners giggling at graphic sexuality from Janice Galloway; or ordinary, drug -free non-ravers turning up out of real literary interest to listen to an accommodating and intelligent Irvine Welsh.

The children’s programme, directed by Lindsey Fraser, was a seed-planting triumph for the future, schoolchildren and families flowing in to an invigorating array of events, diverse and involving.

The appetite is salivatingly sharpened for next year. This year’s programme, bursting with creativity and vision, was put together at short notice; what may yet happen with more time for planning? There is a sense that this is only a start, that Faith Liddell can go much, much further still.

There is a beautiful love poem of Donny O’Rourke’s, about the autumnal somersaulting of the year, which he bravely sang during a lunchtime reading and which the Book Festival might yet wish to adopt as its unofficial anthem: “When the calendar’s done its wilkies/I’ll be back in Charlotte Square.”

The full text of edited extracts can be found at The Scotsman Digital Archive.