The Voice | New German School | High Romantic | Opera
The failure of Peter Cornelius’s The Barber of Baghdad was not due to lack of charm or talent – the opera contained both in plenty – but to a small, vociferous group of reactionary musicians who objected to the influence of Franz Liszt and his ‘New German School’. The ethos of the New German School was to foster the work of ‘progressive’ composers who experimented with new harmonies and regarded music as a means of expressing pictorial or literary ideas. The ‘absolutist’ opposition, whose greatest supporter was the German composer Johannes Brahms (1833–97), preferred their music ‘pure’ and non-representational. Intellectual warfare in the arts – whichever art was in dispute – has often turned to violence, and this campaign was no exception. The ‘absolutists’ mounted a noisy demonstration at the premiere of Barber, creating so much disruption that Liszt chose to resign as Kapellmeister and leave Weimar. However, the principles of the New German School survived and were dramatically typified by the pyrotechnics of Liszt’s piano and other music. Adherents of the New German School included not only Peter Cornelius, but the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow (1830–94), composer Felix Draeseke (1835–1913) and Richard Wagner.
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