Quarter Notes and Bank Notes: The Economics of Music Composition in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuriesby F. M. Scherer
In 1700, most composers were employees of noble courts or the church. But by the nineteenth century, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Verdi, and many others functioned as freelance artists teaching, performing, and selling their compositions in the private marketplace. While some believe that Mozart's career marks a clean break between these two periods, this book tells
In 1700, most composers were employees of noble courts or the church. But by the nineteenth century, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Verdi, and many others functioned as freelance artists teaching, performing, and selling their compositions in the private marketplace. While some believe that Mozart's career marks a clean break between these two periods, this book tells the story of a more complex and interesting transition.
F. M. Scherer first examines the political, intellectual, and economic roots of the shift from patronage to a freelance market. He describes the eighteenth-century cultural "arms race" among noble courts, the spread of private concert halls and opera houses, the increasing attendance of middle-class music lovers, and the founding of conservatories. He analyzes changing trends in how composers acquired their skills and earned their living, examining such impacts as demographic developments and new modes of transportation. The book offers insight into the diversity of composers' economic aspirations, the strategies through which they pursued success, the burgeoning music publishing industry, and the emergence of copyright protection. Scherer concludes by drawing some parallels to the economic state of music composition in our own times.
Written by a leading economist with an unusually broad knowledge of music, this fascinating account is directed toward individuals intrigued by the world of classical composers as well as those interested in economic history or the role of money in art.
James P. Kraft
"This new book by F.M. Scherer explores aspects of the music business in Western Europe during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and asks the question of how classical composers there made the transition from feudal to capitalist society. . . . Scherer brings a much-needed sense of maturity and respectability to the study of music and commerce. . . . Scherer's work on the economics of music publishing is especially informative. . . . Anyone interested in the rise of market practices in Europe will enjoy [this book], especially if they like casual music."James P. Kraft, Enterprise & Society
Read an Excerpt
Quarter Notes and Bank NotesThe Economics of Music Composition in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
By F.M. Scherer
Princeton University PressPrinceton University Press
All right reserved.
Hat man nicht auch Gold beineben Kann man nicht ganz glücklich sein. Traurig schleppt sich fort das Leben, Mancher Kummer stellt sich ein. Doch wenn's in den Taschen fein klingelt und rollt, Da hält man das Schicksal gefangen; Und Macht, und Liebe, verschafft dir das Gold, Und stillet das kühnste Verlangen. Das Glück dient wie ein Knecht für Sold, Es ist ein schones, schönes Ding, das Gold!
If you don't have gold at hand You can't be completely happy. Life drags on sadly, Many troubles intrude. But when it jingles and rolls in your pocket, The fates are at your command. Gold brings you power and love And satisfies the boldest desires. Fortune serves you like a hired lackey. Gold, it is a beautiful, beautiful thing! -Beethoven, Fidelio
FEW would disagree with this admonition of Rocco the jailer to his new apprentice Fidelio. Beethoven considered the message sufficiently important that, after having removed Rocco's "Gold" aria from some performances of Fidelio, he restored it (with minor textual changes accepted here) in the 1814 version, where it remains for all eternity. Even composers need money to be "completely happy"-or at least, some approximation thereto. The more difficult question is, how did composers, great and not so great, obtain their gold? And there scholars are not of one mind concerning the historical facts.
It is reasonably well accepted that at the outset of the eighteenth century, most musicians creative enough to be composers were employed either by the nobility or by the church. It seems clear too that by the middle of the nineteenth century, the situation had changed. The role of the church and especially the noble courts as employers had diminished appreciably, replaced by opportunities for composers to work as freelance artists performing, teaching, and selling their creations through private market transactions. The change, it will be argued in this book, occurred largely because of economic and political developments that simultaneously strengthened the demand of middle-class citizens for music in all forms and weakened the feudal foundations of European noble courts and religious establishments.
Where consensus among scholars fades is on how and when composers made the transition from a court- and church-oriented system to a market-oriented system. Some, such as Wolfgang Hildesheimer, see Mozart as the first "free" composer in a sociological sense, who had to endure material poverty as a consequence of his freedom. The sociologist Norbert Elias argues that:
Mozart's decision to set himself up as a freelance artist came at a time when the social structure actually offered no such place for outstanding musicians. The emergence of a music market and the corresponding institutions was only just beginning.
William J. Baumol and Hilda Baumol place Mozart within a broader trend, characterizing the second half of the eighteenth century as a time of transition "from the universal system of private patronage to the beginnings of a market mechanism under which the product of the composer and the performer became a commodity that could be bought and sold." Howard Gardner similarly sees Mozart as "an important transitional figure in laying a foundation of independence and self-initiated creation." Hansjörg Pohlmann, the leading student of intellectual property rights in music, views the trend toward freelance composition in a still broader time frame spanning the entire eighteenth century. In his schema Mozart occupies an intermediate role:
Composers' struggle for independent freelance status and their attempt to escape positions of dependence under employment relationships-an attempt that led to Mozart's tragic failure-found in Beethoven its first climax. Beethoven is thus the culmination of a long developmental process.
Consistent with Pohlmann's vision, a central argument of this book is that a transition from patronage-oriented to market-oriented freelance composition did occur, but that it was much more gradual and evolutionary than the focus on Mozart as a turning point implies. Antecedents can be found a century before the death of Mozart. And nearly a century after his death, remnants of the old system survived.
The complexity of the evolution is suggested by comparing thumbnail biographies of three important composers, all born in the year 1685-Johann Sebastian Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, and George Frideric Handel-with three born a century and a quarter later-Frédéric Chopin, Robert Schumann, and Franz Liszt.
Bach provides the archetype of how composers earned their living in the early eighteenth century. His entire adult life was spent as an employee-first as organist at churches in Arnstadt and Mühlhausen, then as organist and director of court music for the Duke of Weimar and prince of Köthen, and finally as cantor and director of music for the Thomasschule (School of St. Thomas) and four affiliated Leipzig churches. Like many employed composers of his time, he moonlighted in activities outside his main sphere of employment, dedicating compositions to hoped-for patrons, publishing (at his own expense) a few of his works, holding private lessons, inspecting new organs installed in other towns, and most importantly, between 1729 and 1741, directing an unofficial Leipzig orchestra, the Collegium Musicum, which charged admission for the concerts it regularly held in Zimmermann's coffee house during the winter and a coffee garden during the summer. Bach's Collegium Musicum association became important enough to lead Christoph Wolff (1991, p. 40) to conclude that "Toward the end of his life Bach came astonishingly close to the romantic ideal of the freelance artist." But his compositions for and direction of the Collegium remained secondary to his salaried church and school duties.
What is known about Domenico Scarlatti's career shows fewer traces of freelance activity. He began as a composer of religious works and operas in the court of the King of Naples. After brief visits at other Italian courts, he spent four years in the free city of Venice. Virtually no historical record exists on that period. It would not be unreasonable to suppose that he engaged in freelance composition for one or more of the Venetian opera houses or for wealthy citizens, since there were no noble courts. His success in Venice must have been limited, however, since in 1709 he moved to Rome, where for a decade he was musician in the houses of local and visiting nobles and then presided over musical activities for a chapel associated with St. Peter's basilica. Around 1719 he migrated to Lisbon, becoming teacher and music master in the court of the King and Queen of Portugal, following them to Madrid in 1728 when marriage united the ruling families of Spain and Portugal. He remained a musician in the Madrid court throughout the remainder of his life.
George Frideric Handel learned the art of opera composing first in the free city of Hamburg, where the local opera was a private enterprise, and then in Rome, where he shared the hospitality of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni with Domenico Scarlatti, Arcangelo Corelli, and other composers. Returning to Germany, he accepted a position as director of court music for the Elector of Hanover, but took a leave of absence to visit London and remained there, followed by his would-be Hanover patron, newly crowned as King George I of England. After residing for a while in the home of Richard, Earl of Burlington, Handel became musical director of a London opera company, The Royal Academy, which was a free-standing organization financed by wealthy Londoners who delegated operating responsibilities to an impresario. Handel worked first as salaried director of the opera company; then, when the original financial backers withdrew their support, as co-impresario; and finally as principal impresario for the public performance of his own works. In his impresario role, he lurched precariously between riches and ruin. His survival in lean years was facilitated by a generous annuity of £600 per year from the king's family. Thus, during much of his career, Handel was not only a freelance composer but also a risk-taking entrepreneur. His early eighteenth century freelance activities, however, were supplemented by subsidies from the royal court.
We advance now in time to the years 1810 and 1811, when three representative nineteenth-century composers were born.
Frédéric Chopin was a freelance artist throughout his career. After being provided an excellent musical education by his upper middle-class Warsaw family, he presented a series of freelance concert performances in Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Vienna, Munich, and Stuttgart between 1828 and 1831. Continuing on to Paris, he achieved only limited financial success performing his compositions at public concerts. But his introduction by a Warsaw acquaintance into the salons of wealthy Parisians provided a network of contacts, through which he became the most sought-after and best-paid independent piano teacher in Paris. His earnings were augmented through honoraria from music publishers. When his health deteriorated, he could no longer continue his strenuous teaching schedule. A concert trip to England failed to solve his financial problems, and he died in poverty at age thirty-nine.
After completing his university studies, Robert Schumann settled in Leipzig, where in 1833 he founded a journal reporting on contemporary music developments and was supported at first through the income from an inheritance. After his marriage to Clara Wieck, his receipts from the journal, the inheritance, and publication fees proved to be insufficient to support a rapidly growing family. (See the Appendix to Chapter 4.) They were supplemented through Clara Schumann's freelance piano performance tours throughout Europe. An appointment to the newly founded Leipzig Conservatory faculty proved to be unsuccessful and short-lived. In 1850, at the age of forty, he assumed his first salaried position, as music director of a mostly amateur orchestra and choral society in Düsseldorf. Supervision of the sponsoring Musikverein (musical society) was exercised by representatives appointed by the city council. Schumann's relationship with orchestra musicians and the governing body was conflict-ridden. In 1852 his duties and salary were reduced, and in 1853 he was required to resign. Soon thereafter he lapsed into insanity and died in an asylum in 1856.
Following music studies in Vienna and Paris, Franz Liszt had four distinguishable careers that epitomized the experiences of composers living during both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. His first career was as a touring freelance piano performer. Initially his success was modest, but after he learned the art of spectacular performance by observing Niccolò Paganini, he became Europe's best-drawing concert pianist, performing both his own compositions and those of others (often transcribed) and amassing a substantial fortune. Then, in 1847, he ended his freelance touring and became director of music in the ducal court at Weimar, Germany-a position analogous to those held by the prototypal eighteenth-century composer. In 1858 he resigned his Weimar job and prepared for holy orders, becoming an abbé but not a priest, in Rome, which was his principal residence between 1861 and 1869. His desire to become music director at St. Peter's went unfulfilled. In 1869 he returned to a free residence provided by the Duke of Weimar without any official direction or performance obligations. From that time until his death in 1886, he traveled extensively, with principal bases in Weimar, Rome, and Budapest, teaching hundreds of students gratis and offering numerous public concerts, the proceeds of which were largely donated to charitable causes.
What we see from these six vignettes is a transition from court and church patronage to freelance activity, but the change was gradual, with elements of market-oriented efforts appearing early in the evolution and elements of the patronage and church systems remaining well into the nineteenth century. J. S. Bach and especially Handel exhibited early manifestations of market-oriented activity; Liszt reverted after success in the free market to noble and church support.
NUMBERS AND CREATIVE OUTPUT
Thus, the question, properly framed, is not whether composers earned their bread through patronage as compared to the polar alternative of freelance activities, but the number of composers under one system vis-à-vis the other, or even more precisely, the extent to which composers divided their professional lives between the patronage and freelance alternatives.
Numbers matter. Some authors have suggested that the patronage system, at least as it existed in Germany, Austria, and Italy during the eighteenth century, provided an environment uniquely conducive to making music as a profession, and as a result, music composition experienced a kind of golden age. The essence of their argument is that the breakup of the Holy Roman Empire left central Europe divided into hundreds of individual principalities and dukedoms, many of which, for reasons to be elaborated in the next chapter and chapter 5, chose to support musical ensembles and hence provide employment for musicians and would-be composers. Given widespread employment opportunities, more individuals became professional musicians than would otherwise have been the case. And with more individuals employed as musicians, more turned to composition as part of their responsibilities, which in turn, it is argued, implies that more composers of superior creative talent would emerge.
This book is written by an economist who recognizes that economic analysis cannot predict the appearance of genius. True genius is an extremely rare phenomenon. Even if everything else could be held constant (the economist's standard ceteris paribus assumption), which can hardly be assured, an increase in the number of individuals pursuing musical composition as a profession implies at best in a very weak statistical sense that one or a few will be outstanding geniuses. A composer as great as Mozart might emerge next year, or, as Joseph Haydn speculated on learning of Mozart's death a year before Beethoven moved permanently to Vienna, "Posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years!"
Economic analysis can illuminate matters in another way. Economic incentives affect the specific challenges to which individuals, creative or not, allocate their time. A noble court might provide an ideal environment for the flourishing of creative talent. But the seignior might also have strong preferences as to what kind of music he prefers and insist that his hired composer hew to that line, suppressing compositions that stray from the preferred norm.
Excerpted from Quarter Notes and Bank Notes by F.M. Scherer Excerpted by permission.
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Christoph Wolff, Harvard University
William J. Baumol, author of "The Free-Market Innovation Machine"
Dr. Leon Botstein, President of Bard College, Music Director of the American Symphony Orchestra and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra
Derek Bok, Harvard University
Meet the Author
F. M. Scherer is Aetna Professor Emeritus at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, Lecturer at the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, and the author of many books.
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