Among the 19th-century’s numerous musical skirmishes, one of the more waspish has to be that between Johannes Brahms and Richard Wagner. It didn’t help that they were cast on opposite sides in the famous War of the Romantics, but it’s fair to say that the anointed representatives of the musical future never got on.
Over the years there were several frosty, if at least polite encounters, and behind the scenes a great deal of private lampoons – it was likely Wagner who put it about that Brahms used to kill stray cats with a Bohemian Hunting Bow gifted him by Dvor ˘ ák – but their greatest feud appears to have revolved around a long-disputed score and a bundle of letters to a milliner.
It all began in 1864 when the virtuoso pianist Karl Tausig presented his mate Brahms with the original manuscript for Wagner’s expanded Venusberg music from the Paris production of Tannhäuser. Shortly afterwards, Wagner wanted to consult it for another staging and was horrified to find the score was in the hands of a rival. Peter Cornelius was despatched to get it back but Brahms flatly refused and Wagner had to stew.