The international reputation of Bayreuth as a cultural capital is mainly a result of the Richard Wagner Festival. Around 60,000 visitors from many different countries experience the landmark interpretations by the stars of the Wagner Festival.
Since the Festival was renewed in 1951 under Wieland and Wolfgang Wagner, it has been accompanied by "The International Youth Festival" - founded by Herbert Barth, the former chief press officer for the Festival - with an ambitious artistic programme. Since 1982 the “small festival” has been making use of the courtyard of the historic Steingaeber piano manufactory, where the young artists can rehearse before their official performances. The same stage is used by the well–known, independent theatre group which plays also at the “Studiobühne Bayreuth” (with a capacity of 214 seats), in the Hermitage and Sanspareil Rock Garden. The group performs its own, but very well committed adaptations of Wagner’s pieces.
But it is not only since the 19th century that important artists have been attracted to the valley surrounded by forest on the river "Red Main". The architect Michael Mebarth from Strasbourg influenced the townscape with its buildings in the 17th century. And when the 35-voice organ, rebuilt by him in 1619, was inaugurated in the main church, Margrave Christian invited the most important organists: Michael Preatorius, Heinrich Schütz, Samuel Scheidt and Johann Staden. The architects Charles Philipp Dieussart and Leonhard Dientzenhofer worked in the city of the Margraves as well as the Court sculptor Elias Räntz and Georg Philipp Telemann composed for the Court of Bayreuth.
In the middle of the 18th century Margravine Wilhelmina, the favourite sister of Frederic the Great, the spouse of
Margrave Frederic gave fresh impetus to the city from the Court of Berlin. She was a modern woman, open to all the arts. Having been brought up to be the future Queen of England, she dedicated
herself to the fine arts after the planned marriage failed to take place for political reasons. She painted, composed, wrote her memoirs in French and entertained contacts to the most
intellectual minds of her period. Thus, the French philosopher Voltaire was her guest; they even appeared in theatre together in Bayreuth.
Excellent artists, masters of their trade, came to Bayreuth from Italy, France and Germany. Apart from excellent musicians, singers, dancers and actors the Court was able to employ the architects Joseph Saint-Pierre and Carl Philipp von Gontard, the sculptor Johann David Räntz, the painter Wilhelm Wunder and Johann Benjamin Müller. The works of the plasterer Jean Baptiste Pedrozzi are evidence of the artistic quality of Bayreuth rococo. Guiseppe and Carlo Bibiena, father and son, created a baroque treasure: the Margravial Opera House, which is considered to be the most beautiful baroque theatre still existing in Europe.
The style of gardening of this period is still alive in the Hofgarten at the New Castle, but above all in the Hermitage, one
of the most important examples of German garden design, influenced, partly by the ideas of Margravine Wilhelmina. The cultural and spiritual influences of this period survived the reign of the
It was the Margravine Wilhelmina who, by building the Opera house, influenced Richard who sold their property to Prussia in 1791. Wagner’s interest in Bayreuth in the 19th century. Together with his wife, Cosima, he came to visit the Opera House, which was considered to be the biggest in Europe at the time. During his visit he realised that it wasn’t suitable for his dream of a "synthesis of the arts", but far-sighted city councillors offered the composer a free plot of land to build the Festival House according to his own ideas.
The piano virtuoso Franz Liszt, Cosima Wagner’s father, came frequently to Bayreuth. In 1886, while visiting the
Festival, Liszt died and his body was interred in the town’s cemetery. Quite a few famous names are to be found there today, like the Duke Alexander of Württemberg or Jean Paul.
Numerous members of the Wagner family are buried there as well.
In the house where Franz Liszt died, near the Villa "Wahnfried", there is a museum where the memory of the piano virtuoso is kept alive. The city has over 20 different museums, which bring the rich cultural heritage of Bayreuth to life.
19th century Bayreuth was influenced not only by Wagner, but also by Jean Paul. Mozart’s "Bäsle" Marie Anna Thekla lived in the Franconian town for 27 years until she died in 1841. The philosopher Max Stirner developed his ideas in the shade of the town’s main church, before he died in 1856 at the age of 50.
Even today artistic activities are not limited to the two months of the Festival in summer. The "Musica" series of concerts look back on a long tradition and the touring Bavarian State theatre performs during the week of the Franconian Festival. A wide range of concerts is performed by the "Kulturfreunde’’ in the winter season. Every year, well-known theatre groups and solo artists perform live. The "weekend for Modern Music" has been established at the Steingraeber piano manufactory. At grass-roots level, much is being done in the field of music – in the town’s college of music, or in the orchestral societies. The state academy of protestant church music contributes to the formation of young musicians, and is known for its overall high standard in the field of religious music.
Bayreuth is a mainstay of the Hof city federation theatre, whilst touring theatres also enrich the stages of Bayreuth. From a theatre group of the youth Festival, several groups have been created: the professional "Studiobühne" , known throughout the country, and the amateur groups "Kulturstadl", "Kleines Theater" and the "Bürgerressource".
In the last few years Bayreuth has seen the opening of a number of galleries: pioneering work in this field was carried out by the B.A.T. Campus-Gallery, then by "Steingraeber" and more recently by numerous ambitious galleries in the town centre. The art association made it its task to increase outside interest for the fine arts in the city of music. Each year it organises large expositions at the Hermitage.
Bayreuth offers jazz concerts, comedy and music festivals for every taste. At the "Oberfrankenhalle" (a multi-purpose-hall) pop and rock stars perform regularly. Groups of chamber ensembles who play the music of the Court of the Margraves, popular customs cultivated by very active associations, and contemporary art, which receives a lot of support, are all a fixed part of the cultural programme of the city.