The festivals were founded by English socialist composer Rutland Boughton and his librettist Reginald Buckley. Apart from the founding of a national theatre, they envisaged a summer school and music festival based on utopian principles. This was inspired at least in part by the concept of the "temple theatre" first proposed by Richard Wagner and its corresponding festival, Bayreuth: a place for the common people to congregate around art. With strong Arthurian connections and historic and prehistoric associations, Glastonbury was chosen to host the festivals. The agricultural setting was also considered an asset as Boughton and Buckley felt that 'real art can only grow out of real life." Among the supporters were Sir Edward Elgar and George Bernard Shaw, while financial support was received from the Clark family, shoemakers in nearby Street. The first festival included the premiere performance of Boughton's opera The Immortal Hour. By the time the festivals ended in 1926, 350 staged works had been performed, as well as a programme of chamber music, lectures and recitals. The festivals ended ignominiously when Boughton's backers withdrew funds following a scandalous production of his Nativity opera Bethlehem in London. In sympathy with the miners and the ongoing General Strike, the production had Jesus born in a miner's cottage with King Herod as a top-hatted capitalist and his soldiers in police uniforms.
There is little direct link, beyond the name, between this prewar festival and the modern Glastonbury Festival of Performing Arts, founded in 1970.
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