War of the Romantics
The War of the Romantics is a term used by music historians to describe the aesthetic schism among prominent musicians in the second half of the 19th century. Musical structure, the limits of chromatic harmony, and program music
Program music
Program music or programme music is a type of art music that attempts to musically render an extra-musical narrative. The narrative itself might be offered to the audience in the form of program notes, inviting imaginative correlations with the music...

 versus absolute music
Absolute music
Absolute music is a concept in music that describes music as an art form separated from formalisms or other considerations; it is not explicitly about anything; it is non-representational. In contrast to program music, absolute music makes sense without accompanying words, images, drama, or...

 were the principal areas of contention. The opposing parties crystallized during the 1850s. The conservative circle, based in Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

 and Leipzig
Leipzig Leipzig has always been a trade city, situated during the time of the Holy Roman Empire at the intersection of the Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important trade routes. At one time, Leipzig was one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing...

, centered around Johannes Brahms
Johannes Brahms
Johannes Brahms was a German composer and pianist, and one of the leading musicians of the Romantic period. Born in Hamburg, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria, where he was a leader of the musical scene...

 and Clara Schumann
Clara Schumann
Clara Schumann was a German musician and composer, considered one of the most distinguished pianists of the Romantic era...

, and the Leipzig Conservatoire which had been founded by Felix Mendelssohn
Felix Mendelssohn
Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Barthóldy , use the form 'Mendelssohn' and not 'Mendelssohn Bartholdy'. The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians gives ' Felix Mendelssohn' as the entry, with 'Mendelssohn' used in the body text...

. Their opponents, the radical progressives in Weimar
Weimar is a city in Germany famous for its cultural heritage. It is located in the federal state of Thuringia , north of the Thüringer Wald, east of Erfurt, and southwest of Halle and Leipzig. Its current population is approximately 65,000. The oldest record of the city dates from the year 899...

, were represented by Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt ; ), was a 19th-century Hungarian composer, pianist, conductor, and teacher.Liszt became renowned in Europe during the nineteenth century for his virtuosic skill as a pianist. He was said by his contemporaries to have been the most technically advanced pianist of his age...

 and the members of the so-called New German School
New German School
The New German School is a term introduced in 1859 by Franz Brendel, editor of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik to apply to certain trends in German music...

 ("Neudeutsche Schule"), and by Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

. The controversy was German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 and Central Europe
Central Europe
Central Europe or alternatively Middle Europe is a region of the European continent lying between the variously defined areas of Eastern and Western Europe...

an in origin; musicians from France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, and Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 were only marginally involved. Composers from both sides looked back on Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time.Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of...

 as their spiritual and artistic hero; the conservatives seeing him as an unsurpassable peak, the progressives as a new beginning in music.

The Leipzig conservatives

Clara Schumann, Joseph Joachim
Joseph Joachim
Joseph Joachim was a Hungarian violinist, conductor, composer and teacher. A close collaborator of Johannes Brahms, he is widely regarded as one of the most significant violinists of the 19th century.-Origins:...

 and Johannes Brahms were early key members of a conservative Leipzig-based group of musicians. This core of supporters maintained the artistic legacy of Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann, sometimes known as Robert Alexander Schumann, was a German composer, aesthete and influential music critic. He is regarded as one of the greatest and most representative composers of the Romantic era....

 who had died in 1856. Joachim was a professor at the Leipzig Conservatoire founded by Mendelssohn, at which Robert Schumann had also been a teacher.

Robert Schumann was both an enthusiastic admirer and occasional critic of Liszt and Wagner. Schumann had been a progressive critic and editor of the influential music periodical Neue Zeitschrift für Musik
Neue Zeitschrift für Musik
Die Neue Zeitschrift für Musik was a music magazine published in Leipzig, co-founded by Robert Schumann, his teacher and future father-in law Friedrich Wieck, and his close friend Ludwig Schuncke...

, which he founded in 1834. Schumann maintained exceptionally enthusiastic and artistically fruitful friendships with the emerging vanguard of radical romantics — Liszt in particular — as well as with musical conservatives such as Mendelssohn and Gade.

However, after Schumann sold the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik to Franz Brendel
Franz Brendel
Not to be confused with composer Franz Brendel .Karl Franz Brendel was a German music critic, journalist and musicologist....

 it became an enthusiastic supporter of Liszt and his circle. Clara Schumann had long been the more conservative aesthete in the Schumann marriage. She perceived the change as a slight against her husband’s legacy. The young Brahms, who had been very close to the Schumanns during Robert’s decline, also took up the cause. The conservative critic Eduard Hanslick
Eduard Hanslick
Eduard Hanslick was a Bohemian-Austrian music critic.-Biography:Hanslick was born in Prague, the son of Joseph Adolph Hanslick, a bibliographer and music teacher from a German-speaking family, and one of his piano pupils, the daughter of a Jewish merchant from Vienna...

 was very influential on their behalf. Associated with them at one time or another were Heinrich von Herzogenberg
Heinrich von Herzogenberg
Heinrich Picot de Peccaduc, Freiherr von Herzogenberg was an Austrian composer and conductor descended from a French aristocratic family....

, Friedrich Gernsheim
Friedrich Gernsheim
Friedrich Gernsheim was a German composer, conductor and pianist.Gernsheim was born in Worms. He was given his first musical training at home under his mother's care, then starting from the age of seven under Worms' musical director, Louis Liebe, a former pupil of Louis Spohr...

, Robert Fuchs
Robert Fuchs
Robert Fuchs was an Austrian composer and music teacher.As Professor of music theory at the Vienna Conservatory, Fuchs taught many notable composers, while he was himself a highly regarded composer in his lifetime....

, and Karl Goldmark
Karl Goldmark
Karl Goldmark, also known originally as Károly Goldmark and later sometimes as Carl Goldmark; May 18, 1830, Keszthely – January 2, 1915, Vienna) was a Hungarian composer.- Life and career :...

, among others.

Liszt and his followers

The key figure on the Weimar ("New German") side was Franz Liszt. Richard Wagner was frequently invoked by both sides as a hero or an enemy but he personally preferred to keep above the fray. Other notable figures siding with Liszt were the critic Richard Pohl
Richard Pohl
Richard Pohl was a German music critic, writer, poet, and amateur composer. He figured prominently in the mid-century War of the Romantics, taking the side opposite Eduard Hanslick, and championing the "Music of the Future" .Pohl was born in Leipzig...

 and composers Felix Draeseke
Felix Draeseke
Felix August Bernhard Draeseke was a composer of the "New German School" admiring Liszt and Richard Wagner. He wrote compositions in most forms including eight operas and stage works, four symphonies, and much vocal and chamber music.-Life:Felix Draeseke was born in the Franconian ducal town of...

, Julius Reubke
Julius Reubke
Julius Reubke was a German composer, pianist and organist. In his short life — he died at the age of 24 — he composed the Sonata on the 94th Psalm, in C minor, which was and still is considered one of the greatest organ works in the repertoire.-Biography:Born in Hausneindorf, a small...

, Karl Klindworth
Karl Klindworth
Karl Klindworth was a German composer, pianist, conductor, violinist and music publisher.-Biography:Klindworth was born at Hanover in 1830. For a time he conducted a traveling opera troupe, but settled in Hanover as a teacher and composer. From there he went to Weimar, 1852, and studied the piano...

, Hans von Bülow
Hans von Bülow
Hans Guido Freiherr von Bülow was a German conductor, virtuoso pianist, and composer of the Romantic era. He was one of the most famous conductors of the 19th century, and his activity was critical for establishing the successes of several major composers of the time, including Richard...

, William Mason
William Mason (composer)
William Mason was an American composer and pianist and a member of a musical family.Mason's father was composer Lowell Mason, a leading figure in American church music...

 and Peter Cornelius
Peter Cornelius
Carl August Peter Cornelius was a German composer, writer about music, poet and translator. He was born and died in Mainz where his grave in the Hauptfriedhof survives....

. There were several attempts, centering around Liszt, to create a lasting and formal society. The Neu-Weimar-Verein was one attempt to form a club. It lasted a few years and published minutes of their meetings. The Tonkünstler-Versammlung (Congress of Musical Artists), which first met in Leipzig in June 1859, was a more successful attempt at forming an organization. (See New German School
New German School
The New German School is a term introduced in 1859 by Franz Brendel, editor of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik to apply to certain trends in German music...

). It eventually led to the founding in 1861 of the Allgemeine Deutsche Musikverein
Allgemeine Deutsche Musikverein
The Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein was a German musical association founded in 1861 by Franz Liszt and Franz Brendel, to embody the musical ideals of the New German School of music.-Background:...

 (ADMV)(q.v.), the 'United German Musical Union', which espoused Liszt's musical enthusiasms.

Main disagreements

A central point of disagreement between these two groups of musicians was between traditional and new musical forms. Liszt and his circle favored new styles in writing and forms. The Leipzig/Berlin school championed the forms used by the classic masters, forms codified by musicologists such as Adolf Bernhard Marx
Adolf Bernhard Marx
Friedrich Heinrich Adolf Bernhard Marx was a German composer, musical theorist and critic.-Life:...

 of the early 19th century. The Weimar school increasingly used various kinds of program music (explicitly pictorial and suggestive). Liszt developed the symphonic poem
Symphonic poem
A symphonic poem or tone poem is a piece of orchestral music in a single continuous section in which the content of a poem, a story or novel, a painting, a landscape or another source is illustrated or evoked. The term was first applied by Hungarian composer Franz Liszt to his 13 works in this vein...

. "New wine required new bottles" was his motto.

In reaction to Liszt's first symphonic poems and later by the Faust Symphony
Faust Symphony
A Faust Symphony in three character pictures , S.108, or simply the "Faust Symphony", was written by Hungarian composer Franz Liszt and was inspired by Johann von Goethe's drama, Faust...

, Hanslick published a statement of principles, (On the Beautiful in Music, 1854) asserting that music in itself did not and could not represent anything explicit. It could however be used to suggest realistic impressions in the manner of Hector Berlioz
Hector Berlioz
Hector Berlioz was a French Romantic composer, best known for his compositions Symphonie fantastique and Grande messe des morts . Berlioz made significant contributions to the modern orchestra with his Treatise on Instrumentation. He specified huge orchestral forces for some of his works; as a...

, as well as impressions and feelings, such as those represented by the movement headings in the score of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony
Symphony No. 6 (Beethoven)
Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68, also known as the Pastoral Symphony , is a symphony composed by Ludwig van Beethoven, and was completed in 1808...

. Wagner believed that this attitude was closer to Liszt's intentions than any attempts at exact pictorial representation.

The conservatives' manifesto

One significant event out of many was the signing of a Manifesto against the perceived bias of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. This effort, whose author was almost certainly Brahms, received at first four signatures among them those of Brahms and Joachim, though more were canvassed and eventually more were obtained. Before the later signatories could put their names to the document, however, it found its way into the editorial offices of the Berliner Musik-Zeitung Echo, and from there was leaked to the Neue Zeitschrift itself, which parodied it on May 4, 1860. Two days later it made its official appearance also in the Berliner Musik-Zeitung Echo with more than twenty signatures, including Woldemar Bargiel
Woldemar Bargiel
Woldemar Bargiel was a German composer of classical music.-Life:Bargiel was born in Berlin, and was the half brother of Clara Schumann. Bargiel’s father Adolph was a well-known piano and voice teacher while his mother Mariane had been unhappily married to Clara’s father, Friedrich Wieck. Clara was...

, Albert Dietrich
Albert Dietrich
Albert Hermann Dietrich , was a German composer and conductor, remembered less for his own achievements than for his friendship with Johannes Brahms.Dietrich was born at Golk, near Meissen...

, Carl Reinecke
Carl Reinecke
Carl Heinrich Carsten Reinecke was a German composer, conductor, and pianist.-Biography:Reinecke was born in Altona, Hamburg, Germany; until 1864 the town was under Danish rule. He studied with his father, Johann Peter Rudolph Reinecke, a music teacher...

, and Ferdinand Hiller
Ferdinand Hiller
Ferdinand Hiller was a German composer, conductor, writer and music-director.-Biography:Ferdinand Hiller was born to a wealthy Jewish family in Frankfurt am Main, where his father Justus was a merchant in English textiles – a business eventually continued by Ferdinand’s brother Joseph...


The manifesto read:
The undersigned have long followed with regret the pursuits of a certain party, whose organ is Brendel's "Zeitschrift für Musik".

The above journal continually spreads the view that musicians of more serious endeavour are fundamentally in accord with the tendencies it represents, that they recognize in the compositions of the leaders of this group works of artistic value, and that altogether, and especially in northern Germany, the contentions for and against the so-called Music of the Future are concluded, and the dispute settled in its favour.

To protest against such misinterpretation of facts is regarded as their duty by the undersigned, and they declare that, so far at least as they are concerned, the principles stated by Brendel's journal are not recognized, and that they regard the productions of the leaders and pupils of the so-called New German School, which in part simply reinforce these principles in practice and in part again enforce new and unheard-of theories, as contrary to the innermost spirit of music, strongly to be deplored and condemned.

Signing the manifesto cost Joachim some heartache. Joachim had himself been member of Liszt's circle at Weimar. He had left since he no longer wanted to support Liszt's artistic ideals; however, he still felt friendly towards him.

The war

The 'war' was carried out through compositions, words, and even with scenes such as staged catcalls at a concert to show dislike of the musical programme or conductor. Reputations were at stake and partisans sought to embarrass their adversaries with public slights; the Weimar school held an anniversary celebration of the Neue Zeitschrift in Schumann's birthplace Zwickau
Zwickau in Germany, former seat of the government of the south-western region of the Free State of Saxony, belongs to an industrial and economical core region. Nowadays it is the capital city of the district of Zwickau...

 and conspicuously neglected to invite members of the opposing party (including Clara Schumann). Musicians on one side saw the dispute as pitting Brahms's effective and economical sonata and classical forms against some of Liszt's works which appeared in comparison almost formless. Those on the other saw, on the Lisztian side, musical form best fitting musical content, pitted against works reusing old forms without any feeling for their growth and reason.

Wagner poked fun at the conservative side in his essay On Conducting, when he portrayed them as 'a musical temperance society' awaiting a Messiah.

The attitudes of the Weimar side were also often inconsistent. By 1859 Liszt himself was becoming more interested in writing church music and toeing the conservative lines of the Catholic Church. He retained a fascination with the music of Meyerbeer (having composed piano transcriptions of music from his operas), a composer despised by both the New German School and by Wagner (whose 1850 essay Jewishness in Music
Das Judenthum in der Musik
Das Judenthum in der Musik is an essay by Richard Wagner, attacking Jews in general and the composers Giacomo Meyerbeer and Felix Mendelssohn in particular, which was published under a pseudonym in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik of Leipzig in...

, reprinted and extended in 1868, is a vicious anti-Meyerbeer diatribe). Moreover, Liszt's concepts of programme music, (e.g. in his symphonic poem
Symphonic poem
A symphonic poem or tone poem is a piece of orchestral music in a single continuous section in which the content of a poem, a story or novel, a painting, a landscape or another source is illustrated or evoked. The term was first applied by Hungarian composer Franz Liszt to his 13 works in this vein...

s), were diametrically opposed to Wagner's ideals of music drama as expressed in the latter's essay The Artwork of the Future
The Artwork of the Future
"The Artwork of the Future" is a long essay written by Richard Wagner, first published in 1849 in Leipzig, in which he sets out some of his ideals on the topics of art in general and music drama in particular....


Although actual hostility between the two sides was to subside over the years, the 'war' was a clear demarcation between what was seen to be 'classical music' and 'modern music', categories which still persist (although differently defined) to the present day.
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