During the second half of the 19th century a schism developed in Europe between composers who represented a ‘futuristic” approach to music and those who took a conservative approach. Chief among the first was Franz Liszt, while the latter was headed up by Johannes Brahms. This became known as the “War of the Romantics”. The main debates centred around whether music should be descriptive: something that is inspired by art or literature or other external ideas; or whether music should be simply “pure” or “absolute” or “classical”.
Brahms’ ‘school’, who followed ‘Classical’ principles and looked back to the great masters of the past, such as Bach, Haydn, Mozart and especially Beethoven, were labelled 'conservatives'. Proponents of the Romantically-inspired ‘New German’ music, principally Liszt and company, drew widely on literature and painting, breaking the boundaries of classical forms to make music which was freely expressive in subject matter, structure and harmony.
Our June programmes featured music by each of Liszt and Brahms. You can read the programme notes for each session by clicking on the links below - the notes also contain the Youtube links to the music selections.
As for who was the greater composer, I guess it boils down to personal taste or musical preference.