Founding Committee


In 1967, one year before the official opening of Austria’s first and “only avant-garde festival,” as steirischer herbst is often called, the Styrian department of culture under state governor Josef Krainer Sr. (Austrian People’s Party, or ÖVP) organized an event series of visual and performing art and music in Graz with the same title, using a logo written in lowercase as is still characteristic today.1 Although it is often assumed that the festival’s name (which literally means “Styrian autumn”) is connected to the spring of 1968, with its student revolts in Berlin, Paris, and other places, this is a misinterpretation of at least one part of the original intention.

The founder of steirischer herbst, Hanns Koren, a university professor of ethnology, cultural officer of the Styrian state government, and later ÖVP president of the state parliament (1970–83), found inspiration for the title in a poem by the Styrian physician and dialect poet Hans Kloepfer. Koren thus symbolically transferred the autumnal reaping of a bountiful harvest in Styria, which is touted by tourism as a Genussregion, or culinary region, to culture and scholarship.

The problematic aspect is that Kloepfer was an adherent of the Völkisch nationalist ideology and had been an avid supporter of Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria. The progressive, critical, and often-provocative festival thus already bears a contradiction in its name—a contradictory nature that has also been ascribed to the figure of the avowedly conservative yet cosmopolitan Koren. An ardent advocate for modernity and a “builder of bridges,” he revitalized and opened up the art and culture scene in Styria through various formative initiatives that continue to have an impact today. However, he also repeatedly showed sympathy for those known as “former ones,” a euphemism for erstwhile adherents of Nazism, regardless of how they were involved in the Nazi system.

The lack of a decisive break with the Nazi past and the uncritical reconcilability of the ideology of its adherents with progressive cultural policies seem to have been symptomatic of postwar society in Austria well into the 1980s. The commitment to the new also helped turn the page on the past and deny the existence of a right-wing body of thought outside the ÖVP.

The predecessor event in the fall of 1967 brought together a series of cultural and scholarly events in Styria in September and October that already existed and were also integrated in the subsequent festival. These included the Steirische Akademie (Styrian Academy), which was established by Hanns Koren in 1960; the trinational trigon biennial, also established by Koren in 1963 to complement the Steirische Akademie by bringing together artists from the neighboring countries of Italy, Yugoslavia, and Austria; and the Internationale Malerwochen (International Painting Weeks) at the Neue Galerie Graz, a five-week artist residency with a subsequent exhibition that grew out of the biennial in 1966.

Based on the idea underlying the trigon biennial, which linked these three events and also determined the further orientation of steirischer herbst in the early years, the aim was to unite the artistic and scholarly aspirations of the three neighboring countries in one shared cultural region. Its questionable ideological basis, however, was the historical territory known as “Inner Austria”—the merger of the duchies of Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, and the Austrian Littoral between the 14th and 17th centuries.

trigon 67: ambiente/environment, under the artistic direction of Wilfried Skreiner and the commissioners Umbro Apollonio for Italy and Vera Horvat-Pintarić for Yugoslavia, set new standards that would lead the way for steirischer herbst and its interdisciplinary program. In contrast, the music program in 1967 turned out to be rather traditional and conservative: including a two-day event on Volksmusik im Biedermeier (Folk Music in the Biedermeier Period) and performances of Richard Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen (Ring of the Nibelung) and Johann Strauss’s operetta Tausend und eine Nacht (Thousand and One Nights).

In a press conference held in March 1968, the new series of events that would shift Styria’s representative cultural program from the summer to the fall were presented along with its new director Paul Kaufmann. As a successor to the Grazer Sommerspiele (Graz Summer Festival), which was established in 1947 as a “cultural plaything for the British occupation forces” and took place for the last time in 1969, and as an avant-garde response to the established Wiener Festwochen (Vienna Festival) and Salzburg Festival, steirischer herbst represented a pragmatic fusion of various cultural institutions and initiatives.2 The aim was to resolve long-lasting squabbles of cultural politics in a way that would satisfy all parties involved. In the future, the budget of the ailing Grazer Sommerspiele would benefit the new series of events.

The festive opening of steirischer herbst took place in the Rittersaal of the Grazer Landhaus, the most important Renaissance building in Austria, on 23 September 1968, under the patronage of state governor Josef Krainer Sr. and with Hanns Koren as the keynote speaker. “The intent and purpose of steirischer herbst” was to “showcase the best achievements possible in the state and produced by the state itself,” with “artistic presentations and scholarly events of other nations taking place within the same framework as a supplement and juxtaposed with one another in competition.”3 Koren also emphasized that the topics of the scholarly events and the artistic program would focus on current tendencies in the performing arts, showing that tradition was not their aim but instead their starting point.

The aforementioned cornerstones of the program—the Steirische Akademie, the Internationale Malerwochen, and the trigon biennial (which took a break in 1968)—were combined with performances by the Vereinigte Bühnen Graz (United Theaters Graz) and contributions by the Styrian regional studio of the ORF, the state radio and television, under Emil Breisach. Most notable among these presentations was the musikprotokoll series, initiated and coordinated by Breisach in cooperation with the subsequent artistic director Peter Vujica, which, in addition to the generally classical and traditional music program of opera and concerts, was dedicated entirely to avant-garde and postwar modern music. As the perhaps most coherent and innovative item on the program of the early years, musikprotokoll is the only series that is still part of the festival today.

Another decisive aspect was the involvement of the independent Forum Stadtpark under Alfred Kolleritsch, which also continues to participate in steirischer herbst today. This initiative of artists, scholars, and other producers of culture, which in 1959 took over the rooms of the former Stadtpark-Café in the face of massive resistance, embraced an expanded concept of art and a multidisciplinary working practice, with a focus on young, avant-garde literature. One of these projects was the Literaturreferat (Literature Department), which, among other things, established manuskripte, a journal for literature and art, in the early 1960s.

Other institutions and venues that were involved in the early years were the Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst (College of Music and Performing Arts) under Erich Marckhl (until 1970); the Neue Galerie Graz in the Landesmuseum Joanneum under Wilfried Skreiner (1966–92); the Grazer Oper and the Schauspielhaus Graz, the Vereinigte Bühnen Graz, under Heinz Karl Robert Haberland (until 1968) and Reinhold Schubert (1968–71); and the Kunstpreis der Stadt Köflach (Art Prize of the City of Köflach) for contemporary painting.

Hanns Koren’s founding committee consisted of Emil Breisach (a writer, cultural manager, artistic director of the ORF regional studio in Styria, and a founding member of the Forum Stadtpark, of which he was president until 1967), Paul Kaufmann (a writer, journalist, and ÖVP politician; executive secretary), Christian Kleinwächter (Federal Ministry of Education), Erich Marckhl (a musicologist and composer), Reinhold Portisch (a composer), Wilfried Skreiner (director of the Neue Galerie Graz), and Günter Waldorf (founding member of the Forum Stadtpark).

The aforementioned contradiction inherent in the figure of Koren as the initiator was also reflected in the founding committee, which consisted of conservative members of the ÖVP, members of the progressive scene affiliated with the Forum Stadtpark, and figures like Erich Marckhl, who had been a member of the illegal National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) prior to the annexation of Austria and a professor of music education at the Reichshochschule für Musik (Reich College of Music) in Vienna until 1945. Marckhl was a member of the Program Advisory Board until 1976 and was awarded the Hanns-Koren-Kulturpreis (Hanns Koren Culture Prize) of the State of Styria in 1978.

The lack of an artistic director and of an overarching theme linking the various items in the program beyond the ideas of the trigon biennial contributed to the rather heterogeneous overall impression of the first editions of the festival. The absence of a juridical event organizer—a legal authority accountable to the executive secretary—and a fixed budget were other deficits of steirischer herbst in the early years.

The fact that the first official steirischer herbst overlapped documenta 4 suggests a comparison of the two events—as different as they were with respect to structure and content, there were also similarities. Documenta was created in 1955 from the rubble of the bombed city of Kassel, so to speak, as a prestigious measure to correct the mistakes of the past. In the vision of its creator, Arnold Bode, it was supposed to bring modernity back to Germany. One decade after the end of World War II, Kassel’s location near the border of the German Democratic Republic was on the periphery in cultural and political terms, similar to the university city of Graz. As the site of the first museum to be built in mainland Europe, Kassel could look back on a culturally significant past that was comparable to that of Graz.

With their new events, both cities were initially interested in returning to the proscribed “avant-garde”: while documenta in 1955 introduced the German audience to the art of the modern era, steirischer herbst strove thirteen years later to both reassess and take note of contemporary music, known as Neue Musik. Both in Kassel (albeit with a bit of a delay) and Styria, the presentation and mediation of current contemporary developments provided an opportunity for the province to assert itself against cultural metropolises.

Paul Kaufmann (ed.), 20 Jahre steirischer herbst: Eine Dokumentation (Vienna: Zsolnay, 1988), jacket blurb.
Peter Vujica, “Der ‘steirische herbst,’” in Styrian Window: Bildende Kunst in der Steiermark 1970‒1995, ed. Christa Steinle and Alexander Foitl (Graz: Droschl, 1996), p. 216.
Hanns Koren, “So war es gedacht von Anfang an,” in Paul Kaufmann (ed.), 10 Jahre steirischer herbst (Vienna: Mundus, 1978), p. 6.


Founding Committee 1967/68

Hanns Koren (1906–1985)
1957–70 State Cultural Advisor (Austrian People’s Party, or ÖVP)
1970–83 President of the Styrian Landtag (state parliament)

Emil Breisach (1923–2015)
1958–67 President of Forum Stadtpark
1967–88 Artistic Director of the ORF Regional Studio in Styria
Cofounder of steirischer herbst and musikprotokoll

Erich Marckhl (1902–1980)
1963–71 Founding President of the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz (KUG)

Reinhold Portisch (1930–2002?)
1962–70 music journalist and (Executive) Secretary of the Styrian Music Society
Founding member of Forum Stadtpark and musikprotokoll

Wilfried Skreiner (1927–1994)
1966–92 Director of Neue Galerie Graz
Initiator of Internationale Malerwochen der Neuen Galerie

Günter Waldorf (1924–2012)
Cofounder of Forum Stadtpark
Coeditor (with Alfred Kolleritsch) of the literary magazine manuskripte
Coinitiator of Internationale Malerwochen der Neuen Galerie

As guest
Christian Kleinwächter
Federal Ministry for Education, Vienna

Executive Secretary
Paul Kaufmann (1925–2015)
ÖVP politician
1968–90 Executive Secretary of steirischer herbst

Festival editions