The festival was founded in 1986. At the beginning the focus of the festival was on the improvement of the cultural relations between eastern and western Europe. Every year an east-european country was partner of the festival, beginning with Hungary in 1986. Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union followed. So the festival became a place, were one could see artists from east and west, especially of the partner-countries and of East-Germany. Among the artists of the first years were Dmitry Sitkovetsky, Boris Pergamenschikow and Svjatoslav Richter. After the fall of the iron curtain the festival turned to a world-wide view with partner-countries in whole Europe, North America and China. Every summer around 50 concerts are attracting about 30 000 visitors. The occurring interpreters are a mixture of well-known international stars like Cecilia Bartoli, Arcadi Volodos, Fazil Say or Grigory Sokolov, and newcomers, who often later have made a great career too, like Lang Lang, Diana Damrau  or David Garrett.
Director of the "Kissinger Sommer" from 1986 until 2016 was Kari Kahl-Wolfsjäger. Her successor, beginning in 2017, is Tilman Schlömp, formerly artistic director at the festival Beethovenfest in Bonn.
From the beginning the festival is also a place for contemporary composers like Alfred Schnittke, Sofia Gubaidulina, Edison Denisov, Aribert Reimann or Wolfgang Rihm. There have been world premieres of composers like Jean Françaix (Dixtuor, in 1987), Krzysztof Penderecki (Sinfonietta No. 2 for clarinet and string orchestra, in 1994) and Fazil Say (Sonata for clarinet and piano, op. 42, in 2012). Since 2006 composers present themselves and premieres of their music in the workshop "Bad Kissinger Liederwerkstatt".
Every year the "Luitpoldpreis" (Luitpold Prize) is awarded to a young interpreter of the festival. The prize is named after Luitpold, Prince Regent of Bavaria, who let build the great Bad Kissingen concert hall Regentenbau, where many of the concerts of the festival take place. Among the winners there are artists like Alisa Weilerstein (2000), Baiba Skride (2003), Mojca Erdmann (2005), Tine Thing Helseth (2007), Igor Levit (2009) and Julian Trevelyan (2017).
The festival is connected to the "Kissinger Klavierolymp", a competition of young pianists in autumn in Bad Kissingen. The prize for the winners is a performance at the "Kissinger Sommer". Among them are Martin Helmchen, Nikolai Tokarev, Kirill Gerstein, Igor Levit, Alice Sara Ott and Kit Armstrong.
- authors, various (1989) "Travel and Exchange", GDR Bulletin, Vol. 15: Iss. 2. http://newprairiepress.org/gdr/vol15/iss2/3/