50 Times Great Composers Insulted Other Great Composers

Listeners often think of classical composers as otherworldly gods above earthly matters, who did nothing else in life besides transcribing music from the heavens.

But of course, in reality, the famous composers were human beings, indulging in the same kinds of petty feuds and grievances that we all do.

50 Times Great Composers Insulted Other Great Composers

© classicalregister.com

So today we’re looking at fifty – yes, fifty – times when composers dissed, put down, or otherwise insulted other composers.

1. “The most repugnant thing I have ever seen or heard in all my life… During the entire Second Act the two of them sleep and sing; through the entire last act – for fully 40 minutes – Tristan dies. They call that dramatic!!!” – Clara Schumann about Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde

2. “I took another close look at Schumann’s symphonies with the honest hope of finding them beautiful… It is not worth troubling myself with them.” – Wagner about Robert Schumann

3. “I’ve been to the theatre a few times and heard Wagner’s Walküre, from which I carried away memories of two or three glorious minutes and a whole ocean of boredom and utter emptiness.” – Tchaikovsky about Wagner

Richard Wagner: Die Walküre, Act 1 (English Subtitles)

4. “Wagner has beautiful moments, but awful quarters of an hour.” – Rossini about Wagner

5. “After Rossini dies, who will there be to promote his music?” – Wagner about Rossini

6. “What a good thing this isn’t music.” – Rossini about Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique

Hector Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14 (Lyon National Orchestra; Leonard Slatkin, cond.)

7. “A tub of pork and beer.” – Berlioz about Handel

8. “It’s beautiful and boring. Too many pieces finish too long after the end.” – Stravinsky about Handel’s oratorio Theodora

9. “Handel is only fourth rate. He is not even interesting.” – Tchaikovsky about Handel

10. “He can’t compose a single note without someone’s help.” – Tchaikovsky about Borodin

11. “He likes what is coarse, unpolished, and ugly.” – Tchaikovsky about Mussorgsky

12. “I have played over the music of that scoundrel Brahms. What a giftless bastard!” – Tchaikovsky about Brahms

13. “What would I say to [Brahms]? … I would have to tell him this: ‘Herr Brahms! I consider you to be a very untalented person, full of pretensions but utterly devoid of creative inspiration. I rate you very poorly and indeed I simply look down upon you.’” – Tchaikovsky about Brahms

14. “Hygienic, but unexciting.” – Liszt about the music of Brahms

15. “My fingers itch to do battle, to begin to write anti-Liszt.” – Brahms

16. “I despise Liszt to the very depths of my soul.” – Clara Schumann about Liszt

17. “Never was there a nature more imbued with whims, caprices, and abrupt eccentricities. His imagination was fiery, his emotions violent, and his physical being feeble and sickly.” Liszt about Chopin

18. “A composer for one right hand.” – Wagner about Chopin

19. “Greatly overrated.” – Stravinsky about Vivaldi

20. “Pretty monotonous and monotonously pretty.” – Stravinsky about Boulez

21. “A six and a half foot scowl.” – Stravinsky about Rachmaninoff

22. “All you need to write like him is a large bottle of ink.” – Stravinsky about Messiaen

23. “Why is it that whenever I hear a piece of music I don’t like, it’s always by Villa-Lobos?” – Stravinsky about Villa-Lobos

24. “You’re wasting time composing operas.” – Stravinsky to Prokofiev

25. “[He is] in no position to lay down a general artistic direction, since he is himself not immune to error.” – Prokofiev about Stravinsky

26. “Bach on the wrong notes.” – Prokofiev about Stravinsky

27. “I liked the opera very much. Everything but the music.” – Britten about Stravinsky’s opera The Rake’s Progress

Barbara Hannigan conducts & sings Stravinky’s Aria en cabaletta (The Rake’s Progress)

28. “This is disgusting, sir. No, sir, it is not permissible to write such nonsense until one is sixty.” – Rimsky-Korsakov about Stravinsky

29. “Stravinsky the composer I worship. Stravinsky the thinker I despise.” – Shostakovich about Stravinsky

30. “Shostakovich plays with clichés most of the time, I find. It’s like olive oil, when you have a second and even third pressing, and I think of Shostakovich as the second, or even third, pressing of Mahler.” – Boulez about Shostakovich

31. “From Schoenberg’s pen flows a stream of infuriating clichés and formidable stereotypes redolent of the most wearily ostentatious romanticism…those fake appoggiaturas, those arpeggios, tremolandos and note repetitions, which sound so terribly empty…finally, the depressing poverty, even ugliness of the rhythms.” – Boulez on Schoenberg

32. “No longer of the slightest artistic interest to me, and whatever I may once have learned from him, I am thankful to say I misunderstood.” – Schoenberg about Richard Strauss

33. “He’d be better off shoveling snow than scribbling on manuscript paper.” Richard Strauss about Schoenberg

34. “Such an astounding lack of talent has never before been united to such pretentiousness.” – Tchaikovsky about Richard Strauss

35. “I don’t know myself what to make of Strauss. How is one to explain his unequalness and jumbling together of good and bad?” – Mahler about Richard Strauss

36. “Why do you compose like that? You don’t need to – you have talent.” – Richard Strauss to Hindemith

37. “Listening to the fifth symphony of Ralph Vaughan Williams is like staring at a cow for 45 minutes.” – Copland on Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5 in D Major (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Yehudi Menuhin, cond.)

38. “A very tolerable imitation of a composer.” – Vaughan Williams about Mahler

39. “Half God, half simpleton.” – Mahler about Bruckner

40. “A horrible piece.” – Clara Schumann about Bruckner’s seventh symphony

41. “A sextet of Kalkbrenner was played yesterday, which is miserably composed, so poor, so feeble, and so lacking in all imagination. Of course Kalkbrenner sat in the front row smiling sweetly, and highly satisfied with himself and his creation. He always looks as if he were saying, ‘Oh God, I and all mankind must thank Thee that Thou hast created a mind like mine.’” – Clara Schumann about Friedrich Kalkbrenner

42. “Opera is ill-suited to the Italians. You do not know how to deal with real drama.” – Beethoven about Italian composers and Italian people generally

43. “Clementi is a charlatan, like all Italians. He has nothing to offer.” – Mozart about Clementi and Italian people generally

44. “The French are, and always will be downright donkeys; they can do nothing themselves so they must have recourse to foreigners.” – Mozart about the French people and French composers

45. “Take the Spanish airs and mine out of the score, and there remains nothing to Bizet’s credit but the sauce that masks the fish.” – Gounod about Bizet’s Carmen

Maria Callas Live: Bizet’s Carmen Habanera, Hamburg 1962

46. “He is a fool, who fancies that no one can be better or more perfect than himself; a man who imagines he can do a great deal, and does very little. The whole orchestra dislikes him.” – Mozart about composer Georg Joseph Vogler

47. “I liked the bit about quarter to eleven.” – Satie about Debussy’s La Mer

Claude Debussy: La mer (Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; Dimitri Mitropoulos, cond.)

48. “If I had the time, I would reorchestrate La Mer.” – Ravel about Debussy’s La Mer

49. “If he’d been making shell cases during the war it would have been better for music.” – Saint-Saëns about Ravel

50. “Ripe for the madhouse.” – Carl Maria von Weber about Beethoven

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  1. Hilarious 😁 Tchaikovsky remains my favorite because of, yes, those heart on the sleeve melodies, just so passionate, heart tugging eargasm music he created. He did get his share of acid comments and insults on some of his work and some of his own compositions he disliked, like the now very popular Year 1812 overture which he considered very loud and noisy and he wasn’t even inspired when he created that masterpiece he was just commissioned to write one and that’s what he came up with

  2. Grandes Compositores , criadores de musica,em seu tempo de vida !!! as rixas e as falas abruptas são perdoáveis , pois são fruto de momentos de stress e alguma confusão mental !1 Tinham , é claro , uma visaõ previlegiada e um ouvido apuradíssimo , para poder “olhar” mais de perto as obras musicais alheias !!! conheciam o “metier” das notas musicais a fundo e podiam sim , expressar sua opinião , as vezes duras e cruéis !1 na maioria das vezes, ditas ás pressas e depois reditas , com calma e reflexão ponderada !!!!!

  3. Would love to know more about the whys and hows of these comments… and then relationships between masters? Maybe the author would like to expand or cite sources? 🫶

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