Composers Datebook®

Hugo Wolf and the Wagner-Brahms Wars

Composers Datebook - April 17, 2024


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!

Music Played in Today's Program

Hugo Wolf (1860-1903): Italian Serenade (I Solisti Italiani); Denon 9150

On This Day


  • 1683 - German composer Johann David Heinichen, in Krüssuln

  • 1774 - Bohemian composer Jan Václav Tomášek (Johann Wenzel Tomaschek), in Skutec

  • 1897 - Norwegian composer Harald Saeverud, in Bergen


  • 1790 - American statesman, scientist, amateur musician and composer Benjamin Franklin, 84, in Philadelphia

  • 2002 - Canadian composer and conductor Srul Irving Glick, 67, in Toronto


  • 1918 - Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No. 4 and Two Sonatinas, in Petrograd, by the composer

  • 1941 - Edward Joseph Collins: Lament and Jig for orchestra, by the Chicago Symphony, Frederick Stock conducting

  • 1964 - Rozsa: Notturno Ungherese, by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting

  • 1965 - Stravinsky: Variations (Aldous Huxley in memoriam) and Introitus (T.S. Eliot in memoriam) in Chicago, conducted by Robert Craft

  • 1998 - Libby Larsen: Songs of Light and Love (poems by May Sarton), in Philadelphia, by soprano Benita Valente and the Network for New Music

  • 2003 - Gubaidulina: The Light of the End for orchestra, by the Boston Symphony, with Kurt Masur conducting


  • 1833 - American premiere of Mozart's opera The Magic Flute (sung in English), at the Park Theatre in New York City

  • 1849 - Gottschalk's formal debut at the Salle Pleyel in Paris (He had had performed his first recital there on April 2, 1845, with Chopin in the audience). He performs some of his own compositions and is hailed as the first authentic composer of the New World.

  • 1906 - On tour in San Francisco with the Metropolitan Opera touring company, the great Italian tenor Enrico Caruso sings a performace of Bizet's Carmen the day before the Great San Francisco Earthquake.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®