Hugo Wolf and the Wagner-Brahms Wars for Sunday, April 18, 2021

On today’s date in 1887, readers of the Wiener Salonblatt, a fashionable Viennese weekly artspaper, could enjoy the latest critical skirmish in the Brahms-Wagner wars. At the close of the 19th century, traditionalist partisans of the Symphonies, Sonatas, and String Quartets of Johannes Brahms rallied around the conservative Viennese music critic, Eduard Hanslick. In the opposing camp were equally passionate admirers of the music dramas of Richard Wagner and the symphonic tone poems of Frans Liszt, works this camp defined as “the music of the future.” The April 17, 1887 edition of the Wiener Salonblatt contained a review of a chamber music program presented by the Rosé Quartet, Vienna’s premiere chamber ensemble in those days. Here’s what the critic had to say: “What was provided on this occasion was not to our taste: Brahms–no small dose of sleeping powder for weak nerves. Such programming reeks of lethal intent and should really be forbidden by the police!” That review was penned by Hugo Wolf, these days more famous as a composer than as a music critic, and regarded one of the greatest song composers of the 19th century after Schubert, Schumann—and Brahms!