Yet Another Headline About Feuds, This One Taken From Musical History
Did you know that the characters tweedledum and tweedledee are a reference to a beef between composers in the 1700's?
As we get closer to Election Day, there’s a lot of news about the candidates, their backstories, their feuds with each other over the issues, and the feuds between the political parties. This is another story about feuding, but it’s not about politics. Controversy and turmoil also exist in the music world, and we wanted to take a look back and some famous musical feuds in history.
Ray Davies and Dave Davies
If you look deeply enough into the histories of the many rock bands that have featured brothers, you’re bound to find friction and sibling rivalry. Creedence Clearwater Revival (John and Tom Fogerty), The Beach Boys (Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson), and The Black Crowes (Chris and Rich Robinson) are all examples.
All bands have conflicts, but brothers have a head start, with deep-seated resentments and hurt feelings that can go back to when they were kids. The foremost example of battling brothers in rock ‘n’ roll is generally considered to be The Kinks. Younger brother Dave Davies actually started the band in 1963, and older brother Ray Davies joined soon after as lead singer and frontman. Both brothers are songwriters and vocalists, but over the course of a three decade long career (The Kinks last played on stage together in 1996), Ray Davies completely eclipsed Dave in fame and reputation. Ray was even knighted in 2017!
Their history of physical fights, violent stage antics and jealous rages seems to be behind them. Ray and Dave have talked about a Kinks reunion in recent years, acknowledging that it’s not the Kinks without both of them being involved. As the Kinks ended in 1996, brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher’s band Oasis was really taking off, carrying on in the battling brothers tradition.
The New German School and The Classic Masters
Musical duke-outs aren’t just restricted to current social media confrontations. In the mid-nineteenth century, a classical face-off was ignited when two camps, the "program" versus the "absolute" music groups emerged. Both claimed they were the rightful musical heirs and the true followers of Beethoven.
The "program" group called themselves the New German School. Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner, along with a multitude of followers, carried the torch. Their progressive stance claimed Beethoven’s addition of voices and text to his 9th Symphony showed that opera and blended music with a programmatic source was "The Music of the Future." Liszt created the symphonic poem, and Wagner incorporated the leitmotif into his music dramas. The New German School pressed and expanded the limits of tonality and form and integrated art, poetry, and literature into their music.
The "absolute" camp were staunch advocates of the tonality and practices embraced by the classic masters. They built on the symphonic, string quartet, and sonata forms along with the tonal traditions from Joseph Haydn to Robert Schumann. In 1860 Johannes Brahms and violinist Joseph Joachim, encouraged by Robert Schumann’s brilliant concert pianist wife, Clara, wrote a manifesto touting the ‘evil influence’ of the New German School. Brahms and Joachim were quoted writing that their opponents, "regard everything great and sacred which the musical talent of our people has created up to now as mere fertilizer for the rank, miserable weeds growing from Liszt-like fantasias." Once their document was leaked, Liszt named Brahms and the rest of his old-fashioned cronies 'the posthumous party.' The "absolute" music camp was skewered, and the conservatives, except for a critic or two, kept their opinions to themselves.
Despite their radically opposing compositional styles and tastes, this war-of-words instigated and inspired these Romantic era icons to compose a wealth of incredible music. Who knows, perhaps without their not-so-civil discourse, we might not be enjoying performances of their marvelous music today.