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.
Sun Kil Moon and The War On Drugs
The nice thing about the feud between Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek and The War On Drugs’ Adam Granduciel is that we know exactly when, and why, it began. Both bands performed at the Ottawa Folk Festival on Sept. 14, 2014. They were playing simultaneously at different stages, and the sound from The War On Drugs’ set bled over onto Sun Kil Moon’s stage. Kozelek was clearly angered, making crude comments and improvising a profane song title directed at The War On Drugs. Granduciel was disappointed by this, being a fan of Sun Kil Moon’s 2014 album “Benji.” Kozelek later apologized, acknowledging that the situation wasn’t The War On Drugs’ fault.
After multiple music news sites picked up the story, Kozelek backed off of his apology. He then challenged Granduciel to appear on stage with him in October of 2014 in San Francisco and perform a new song he’d written, doubling down on his profane rant from the festival. Granduciel actually considered participating, but Kozelek withdrew the offer after a couple of days, taking another shot at Granduciel’s music in the process. Having apparently had enough, Granduciel gave an interview in which he had some choice words of his own. Kozelek took the words from the interview and released a spoken word blues track called “Adam Granduciel’s Blues.”
Kozelek and Granduciel were 47 and 35 years old, respectively, at the time of this incident.
*Unrelated to this incident, in August, Kozelek was accused of sexual misconduct by three women, as reported by Pitchfork.
Bononcini and Handel
To Giovanni Maria Bononcini we owe a classic written not by him but about him. The “Epigram on the Feuds between Handel and Bononcini,” penned by John Byrom in 1725, went viral immediately. It read:
"Some say, compar’d to Bononcini,
That Mynheer Handel’s but a Ninny;
Others aver, that he to Handel,
Is scarcely fit to hold a Candle.
Strange all this Differ-ence should be
‘Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee."
It’s not clear which composer was Tweedle-dum and which was Tweedle-dee, nor is it obvious that George Frideric Handel and Bononcini were feuding in real life. Instead, the Italian composer seems to have stumbled into the intrigues of British politics and of show-biz hype, which was nasty long before Twitter. Being cast as the rival of Handel, who was by far the greatest composer in the empire, couldn’t end well for the Italian.
Bononcini left England in 1740 and passed away in Vienna seven years later. His music is forgotten while Handel’s has never fallen out of active performance. Meanwhile, Tweedledum and Tweedledee live on as characters in nursery rhymes, Lewis Carroll and a Bob Dylan song. And Byrom’s snark-post never died. Strange all this difference!