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« Rewind -- Journalism and Fantasy | Main | TV Alert -- Black and White Special Edition »

February 22, 2004

Rewind -- The Economics of Mozart

Note -- FvBlowhard and I are pleased with some of our very earliest blogwriting, and we're pained that nearly all of it went unread. It takes a serious while to find a reader or two in the blogosphere. So we've decided to unearth some of that early writing and give it a fresh chance; now and then we're going to indulge ourselves and re-run some of our earliest postings. Here's hoping a few readers get a kick out of them. Given that I'm simply copying and pasting into a new posting, comments will be left behind. Apologies for that -- I don't know how to work around the problem. But don't let that keep anyone from commenting this time around. We're as eager as ever to yak about this stuff.

In this episode of Rewind, FvB takes a look at The Economics of Mozart.

Michael --

Everyone knows the story of Mozart, the composer who was so childishly self-indulgent and self-destructive that, despite his immense gifts, he descended into poverty, illness and an early grave. After all, how could such a talent have failed to make a brilliant career in Vienna, the "Holy City" of music, except by self-sabotage? Actually, Mozart’s fate seems to have been more the result of the failings of late 18th century Viennese economy than any flaws of his personality.

Vienna’s economy was quite simply based on being the capital of the Hapsburg Empire. Cash to sustain its opulence migrated to Vienna via imperial taxes and feudal rents from productive centers as far apart as Belgium, Italy, Poland and the Balkans. As Peter Hall puts it in “Cities in Civilization”:

…Vienna thus remained essentially a capital of conspicuous consumption, not a center of production…The aristocracy enjoyed fabulous wealth…The professions and the services—medicine, law, education, entertainment and information—ministered to them, at adequate if not lavish terms. …Industry was small-scale, inefficient and badly paid…This was an extraordinarily backward city technologically and organizationally… Overall, in Vienna few lived well and the poor, who were the great majority, lived miserably.

In the early 18th Century, Hapsburg Emperor Charles VI recognized the Austrian empire’s economic backwardness as a strategic liability. When his daughter Maria Theresa came to the throne, she began administrative and economic reforms. These “reforms” did not entail any liberalization of the economy; rather, quite the contrary, they focused on creating a centralized bureaucracy directly responsible to the monarch. Maria Theresa’s political and economic model, in short, was not England but the France of Louis XIV. Maria Theresa’s reforms were continued after her death by her son Joseph during the 1780s—the decade of Mozart’s career in Vienna.

While not very interested in private enterprise, the Hapsburgs were very supportive of music and had been for over a century. The houses of the great nobles imitated them in this. As a result, music throve in Vienna, and musicians could too--but only if they attracted patronage. Gluck, Haydn and Salieri spent most of their lives on either imperial or aristocratic salaries. Predictably, as far as the “business” of music went, Vienna remained rather backward. Peter Hall points out:

Vienna was not the innovator [in the professionalization of classical music]: formal concerts…first developed in London in the 1720s and grew greatly in number between 1750 and 1790 …In Vienna concerts developed later, becoming frequent only in the 1780s…[Moreover, in Vienna] most concerts were developed by middle-class amateurs, ‘resembling the events of most provincial cities.’

Mozart arrived in Vienna in 1781, fleeing the stifling “security” of a poorly paying patronage job in Salzbourg, and looking to make good in the big city. The choice that greeted him was whether to chase the possibility of someday obtaining a secure paycheck as a patronage employee, or to pursue the immediate if limited opportunities in the local commercial music business. As Maynard Solomon points out in his biography, “Mozart,” the young musician, who was far from being the unworldly child-genius of myth, chose to vigorously plunge into any money-making opportunities he could find while hoping for patronage to descend.

While supporting himself by teaching and composing, Mozart focused his serious ambitions on writing an opera, thus hoping to break into the musical big time. With Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail he achieved an international success--productions in 15 German-speaking cities--but neither riches nor patronage. The Emperor, not known for his cutting-edge taste, criticized the music: "Too many notes, my good Mozart!" Financially, Mozart received only the standard theatrical fee for his work. Mozart himself wrote regarding this experience:

I am willing to write an opera, but not to look on with a hundred ducats in my pocket and see the theater making four times as much in a fortnight. I intend to produce my opera at my own expense, I shall clear at least 1,200 florins by three performances and then the management may have it for fifty ducats…

Unfortunately, opera production was securely in the hands of the imperial theater management, so Mozart turned his entrepreneurial energies to concert promotion. He had noticed that the public was wildly enthusiastic when he performed his own music. Since the large court theaters were rarely available for commercial purposes, he decided to offer a subscription series of concerts in smaller, unconventional venues. He ended up giving an unprecedented 18 subscription concerts between 1784 and 1786. During these years he also sold sheet music from his compositions, held “balls” in his own apartment (performing from six at night to seven the following morning) and continued to teach, all while writing over 150 different works, from operas to sonatas to dance music. Not surprisingly, this superhuman productivity provided Mozart with a comfortable income for a few years.

However, at the end of 1786 his public concert series came to an end, apparently because he was suffering from a painful inflammation of his hands. Mozart turned to writing operas for a fee again, which helped but didn’t replace the lost entrepreneurial income from the concerts. He was appointed court composer on the death of Gluck, but at half the pay, which led to his comment that he was paid "too well for what I do, not well enough for what I could do." Frankly, as a result of his childhood under an extremely controlling father, Mozart simply wasn't cut out to play the patron-artist game. And yet other sources of income in Vienna's top-down, pre-modern economy were wanting.

As this dreary period dragged on into 1788, he ran into another problem for an artist dependent on an aristocractic audience: war. An unpopular war with Turkey that began in 1788 limped on through 1791. Opera production virtually halted and concert activity plummeted as the aristocracy, fearing conscription into the army, headed for the provinces en masse. For Mozart, the consequence of these economic reverses was, as Maynard Solomon notes, something close to a total breakdown, leaving him deeply depressed and impairing his productivity.

Largely by strength of will Mozart rebounded in 1791. In the eleven months remaining to him he wrote two operas, most of a requiem mass and many other works—essentially, anything remunerative that came his way, high art or low— before his fatal illness took him. Maybe four years of financial problems—caused not by his own fecklessness but rather by the real difficulty of surviving in Vienna for an artist unsuited to the patronage game—didn’t kill him outright, but one doubts that they contributed to his health or artistic productivity.

I also note in passing that the Viennese model of patronage is almost exactly what most left-wing supporters of the arts would desire in today’s America: public funding handed out by an elite disdainful of crass commercial considerations. They should be careful what they wish for: it might come true.



posted by Michael at February 22, 2004


I doubt history would repeat itself "a la Vienna". Crass commercialism is America's bread and butter, no?

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on February 22, 2004 11:07 PM

Patronage by aristocrat is very, very different from patronage by bureaucrat. The entire history of Viennese music of that period shows that it *is* possible for aristocrats to sponsor worthwhile, innovative, cutting edge art - see Beethoven's Rasumovsky Quartets.

Posted by: Alan Little on February 23, 2004 04:51 AM

I think "patronage" is always a mixed bag. Wow. It really is rather sobering to see a truly gifted artist who was NOT waiting around to be "supported" and who had the get-up-and-go to make something of his art on his own...and who still couldn't pull it off! (Not that his art didn't pull it off, but he didn't).

Posted by: annette on February 23, 2004 09:46 AM


Regarding your notion of Mozart having failed, economically: according to Maynard Solomon, the whole death scene of "Amadeus" (like the whole play) is nonsense:

It is now widely accepted the Mozart died of acute rheumatic fever; he had had three or even four known attacks of it beginning in his childhood and it has a tendency to recur, with increasingly serious potential consequences, including rampant infection and cardiac valve damage.

Hence, neither Salieri nor his own fecklessness was the "cause" of Mozart's death; but the financial difficulities Mozart went through because of Vienna's economic underdevelopment certainly reduced the amount of music he put out during what might have been four of his most productive years. Also, Mozart's own strenuous labors were, in fact, wildly successful at providing for his family after his death. Again, from Maynard Solomon:

On 11 December Constanze Mozart applied to emperor for [Mozart's] pension and for permission to put on a benefit concert to pay Mozart's remaining debts [which he had already made a major dent in by the superhuman activity of his final year] and soon she was able to earn considerable sums...For several years she mounted additional benefit performances, in Graz, Linz, Dresden, Leipzig and Berlin, winding up once more in Praque on 15 November 1797. Her earnings enabled her to lend Josepha Duschek the very large sum of 3,500 florins at 6 percent interest in 1797 and to leave the considerable fortune of 27,191 florins in cash at her death...Thus, Mozart's family gained prosperity in the unprecedented wave of enthusiasm [for his works]; soon, as A. Hyatt King has documented, he had become both "a household word" and "an object of veneration" among composers and music-lovers, with performances everywhere and numerous publishers issuing competing editions of his works.

So much for the notion that he had 'sabotaged' himself by his wildly irresponsible, childish behavior; Mozart would have died rich, recognized and happy had his health permitted him another decade of life. Of course, his success would not have come from either Vienna's stunted musical free-market or its over-developed patronage musical scene; Mozart's main success in the years after his death was from the international musical free market. Hence, his poverty was the result of it taking a little too long for him to get recognized outside of the economic backwater where he was laboring. So much for the 'Holy City of Music'!

Everybody else:

Thanks for you comments. But my point is that for artists who are temperamentally unsuited to play the patronage game, their prospects can be hurt rather than helped by vigorous state intervention, which normally pre-empts the market.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 23, 2004 10:54 AM

Alan's reminding me of an observation I always wanted to make, which is this: when they agitate for government help for the arts, lefty/arty types always seem to be picturing government as a kind of benevolent despot with taste, who'll take all that power and put it to the kinds of uses lefty/arty types think are worthwhile. They never seem to realize that, as Alan says, 1) contempo modern governments are bureaucracies, not benevolent despotisms, and that what always happens with bureaucracies (entrenched interests, the politicizing of everything, the creation of a fixed class of adminsitrators, who will now have too much power, etc) will inevitably happen with an arts bureaucracy, and that 2) once you create a new office with new powers, there's absolutely no certainty that those people will use those powers in ways that you approve of -- and there's no way to guarantee or ensure that they will.

Since they're fantasists, and unaware that this process is largely inevitable once it's been set in motion, and since they finally have to explain why things haven't worked out so well, lefty/arty types tend to resort to their usual -- evil devil figures (ie., anti-art righties) have seized control of the agenda, and we have to summon up our idealism and outrage and demonize and castigate and eject them and fill those positions once again with good people (ie., us), and then everything will be ok again.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 23, 2004 11:38 AM

If you want to know what results a more entrepreneurial approach had for music in the late 18th century, take a look at London's musical life.

There the bright stars were......



In her book on Beethoven, Tia Denora uses precisely this example to demonstrate that writing for the marketplace and can have adverse consequences for the quality of your art.

Or perhaps Mr. Blowhard would prefer to spend his time listening to Pleyel?

Posted by: M.Croche on February 23, 2004 12:44 PM

Ronald Reagan said it: "When you go to bed with the government, you'll get more than sleep."

How is the governmental procreation of the arts in the Netherlands going? Do they still pay 'painters' to paint; do they still purchase the unsaleable 'art'
and store it in huge warehouses?

Posted by: Jim Papa on February 23, 2004 12:45 PM

M. Croche:

The presence or absence of great musical talent that was indigenous to the U.K. ain't the point. The point is that Mozart would have had a rather happier and less financially stressful life if he had managed to move there. And I recall that London did play a role in the financial and musical affairs of Beethoven, who, like Mozart, was forced to do a lot of hustling--possibly by a temperament also unsuited to Imperial patronage.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 23, 2004 01:58 PM

Herr v. Blowhard,

Your counterfactual speculation seems to rest more on theology than on demonstrable fact.

Dussek was a fine composer. His composing, by and large, became more routine and less interesting the more he had to write for the market. Recall that Mozart's music was considered "difficult" at the time. Even into the 19th century (read your Stendahl). It seems more than likely that Dussek would have beat him in a race to the bottom.

However well Mozart's music may have sold abroad, Pleyel's sold better.

Beethoven did a fair bit of hustling (producing for London's George Thomson those immortal Scottish folk-song settings). But where would he have been without Lobkowitz's annuity and all the other aristocratic patronage? We'd have a bunch of works written for the market that devoured Wellington's Victory.

The market may do well at supporting musicians, but it will have certain, fairly-predictable consequences for the art it supports. Some of these consequences are salutory - Philip Glass might be considered a good example of this. A number of them, however, are not.

Posted by: M.Croche on February 23, 2004 03:03 PM

I suppose I'm playing odd man out here, and I promise to shut up once I've got this off my chest ...

I'm all for the market. It does what it does. And we're all (the Unabomber aside) living within it, so why not accept that and get on with it. On the other hand, I'm also all for philanthropy and patronage. There are some things the market doesn't do well, or doesn't support, anyway, including many things I care about and think are worthwhile.

The one thing I'd argue, though, is that it's important to keep the government out of the arts-philanthropy game. They'll screw things up, politicize them, and inflict tons of boredom and annoyance on the rest of us, especially in a country as patchwork-y as the US.

So I cheer the market, and I cheer private arts philanthropy. Let's have lots of rightie arts foundations and tons of lefty arts foundations, and tons of modernist and tons of antimodernist, etc etc arts foundations. Let's have a marketplace of arts philanthropies, and a marketplace of philanthropy-supported art too.

An example here: if Eisner, Katzenberg, Streisand, Spielberg etc got together and opened their purses and hounded their bigshot friends, they'd have themselves an arts foundation whose year income would equal the NEA's spending. And they could support whatever art they wanted to, without any taxpayer minding or protesting. It might shame some bigshot righties into starting a competing arts foundation, and then some bigshot lesbian Hispanics into starting theirs, and then some edgy graphic designers into starting theirs ...

Lots of art and artists would get some support, and that tedious, tedious topic that has bored the life out of so many for so many decades -- namely, the NEA, and government support of the arts -- would finally get swamped and overwhelmed.

Hey, maybe people would start talking about the art again.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 23, 2004 04:53 PM

Michael Blowhard writes:

"The one thing I'd argue, though, is that it's important to keep the government out of the arts-philanthropy game. They'll screw things up, politicize them, and inflict tons of boredom and annoyance on the rest of us...."

Many important arts organizations have benefitted from government sponsorship. Just to pick one example out of many: the Kronos Quartet got some important state grants early in its career. Would Mr. Blowhard prefer that Kronos earned its money playing in Ghirardelli Square?

Posted by: M.Croche on February 23, 2004 05:41 PM

M. Croche--I'm not sure I'm following your points. You describe Mozart's work as complex and demanding; yet it was, in fact, supported not by patronage but by the market. Is this one of the 'fairly predictable' consequences of composing for the market that you mention? As I recall, Beethoven, while receiving support from many different sources, including some rich aristocrats, was never dependent for long on any single one of them (unlike, say, Haydn or Bach); thus I wouldn't really say Beethoven was a creature of patronage, just that he had a lot of 'customers.' So is his work also compromised by its 'market' orientation? Isn't it possible that Dussek and Pleyel were simply of limited talent, and wrote as well or as poorly for 'the market' as they would have for a patron?

In any event, the purpose of the piece was not to do a blanket condemnation of patronage or government support and do a blanket endorsement of arts supported by the market. It was simply to point out that (1) patronage, and government support more generally generally means that the patron or arts bureaucrat functions as an 'authority figure,' (2) that a significant portion of the human race, certainly including artists, are not good being dependent on authority figures, (3) and that for this portion of the artistic population, having a rather more impersonal option like selling into the market is a darn useful thing, (4) using patrons or bureaucrats to hand out the dough effectively works as a barrier to artists unable to work well with authority figures, which may restrict society's artistic talent pool. Really, that's all I was getting at here. The topic of the pros and cons of government vs. market support for the arts is quite complex and will hopefully be the topic of future posts. Thanks for stopping by.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 23, 2004 07:20 PM

Friedrich v. Blowhard writes:

"I'm not sure I'm following your points. You describe Mozart's work as complex and demanding; yet it was, in fact, supported not by patronage but by the market."

To the extent it was supported by the market, it was supported quite poorly. Review the story of Franz Anton Hoffmeister and the 3 piano quartets he commissioned from Mozart. The exception to this rule would be the piano concertos - after three years, though, he went out of fashion.

Clearly, Mozart's music was not a great success with the market - look how badly he fared during the "economic downturn." Though the fecund Mozart could supplement his income with publications, that supplement was clearly insufficient.

By the way - don't knock Dussek. He was a serious, inventive musician. If he's less remembered today, it's surely due in part to the type of music his economic situation forced him continually to compose.

Herr v. Blowhard continues: "As I recall, Beethoven, while receiving support from many different sources, including some rich aristocrats, was never dependent for long on any single one of them (unlike, say, Haydn or Bach); thus I wouldn't really say Beethoven was a creature of patronage, just that he had a lot of 'customers.' So is his work also compromised by its 'market' orientation?"

Not to the extent that patronage from a small group of aristocrats permitted him to disregard the musical formula that, say, made Pleyel popular.

Posted by: M.Croche on February 23, 2004 08:24 PM

M. Croche -- I'm not sure your Kronos example clinches your argument. The NEA has given money and support to lots of good artists and organizations. I can't imagine that anyone would contend otherwise. The argument has to be about whether on balance its influence has been a good one for the arts or a bad one. (Another debate can be about whether it's a wise and respectful use of the taxpayers' money.)

This can obviously be debated endlessly, but I think the argument that its influence has on balance been a bad one can be made quite forcefully. For example: can anyone seriously argue that the American arts have been on balance in better shape since the inception of the NEA than they were before? Let's see ... Pre-NEA: Melville, Kate Chopin, the Hudson River School, David Park, Stanford White, jazz, movies, Hemingway, Bessie Smith, Ives, Ellington, Armstrong, Hawthorne, Hurston. Post-NEA: anything much that can compare? So in what sense can it be shown that the NEA has been good for the arts? The NEA has also played a big role in the creation of a huge arts-administrator class, which to an extent many people don't realize influences the direction of the arts -- it's no coincidence that the arts since the creation of the NEA have gotten to be a more academic and a more political thing than they were before.

I'm happy to admit that the NEA has done some good, and am happy to hear arguments that on balance it's been a good thing. I disagree, of course. But I recognize that those arguments can be made and carry some weight. Still, I think the arts would be on balance far better off relying on the market and on private philanthropy.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 23, 2004 11:46 PM

Friedrich, aristocratic patronage is a market - it's just a market where some of the producers have one wealthy customer for whom they do the majority of their work. This isn't that unusual in free markets - look at the car parts industry for example. One customer is still somebody who freely chooses to fund your work because, presumably, they're sufficiently interested in it to spend their own money on it.

If anybody thinks that kind of relationship was necessarily stifling to creativity - well, Haydn has already been mentioned. Eighteenth century Viennese composers weren't serfs and were, in principle, free to leave their patrons if they didn't like the situation - see Mozart and the Bishop of Salzburg.

(Deciding whether 18th century Viennese aristocrats came by their own money by means we would now regard as fair or legitimate is left as an exercise for the reader, and isn't central to the question we're discussing here anyway).

A bureaucrat, on the other hand, is not freely choosing to spend her or his own money on something because he or she is personally interested in it. They are spending other people's money on things, not because they believe they are inhernently worthwhile or interesting but because they fit the bureaucrat's employer's agenda. (I'm sure there are individual arts bureaucrats who do care deeply, if misguidedly, about what they are doing).

And, as Michael says, look at the results. Arts Councils and the like hardly have a track record of supporting great flowerings of creativity. Markets - including markets where a high proportion of the customers are wealthy aristocrats - do.

Posted by: Alan Little on February 24, 2004 08:25 AM

Not quite, but close.

Mozart had considerable expenses, not the least was his family (several children), but also fancy clothes and a fashionable address, impt for attracting high paying teaching jobs and establishing his reputation.

Mozart took to borrowing in his last few years as well and was, apparently, having marital problems: both he and his wife probably had affairs.

There was also considerable rivalry among composers for the plum commissions. Mozart, who had quite a few good breaks, established himself as a bawdy comic opera composer, which didn't exactly ingratiate him to the more conservative elements in Vienna. The politics of several of his most popular operas -which tweaked to a greater or lesser extent the aristocracy- also didn't make it easier for him to sustain good commissions.

In short, Mozart was a transitional figure, from the artist as craftsman a la Telemann and Salieri, to the artist as social outcast, Cassandra figure, and independent spirit. Too unique, as an artist, to cut his talent to fit the cloth of his patrons, Mozart stumbled badly and was doing poorly when he died.

On a personal level, Mozart was probably a boon companion and not terribly self-absorbed, unlike the odious Beethoven, with a typical musician's personality: quick to use obscene humor at any provocation, not terribly verbal about his introspections, self-confident, but continuously worried about money.

His death was, as Robbins Landon puts it, the greatest tragedy ever in the history of Western Music. (Although I would argue that the birth of Andrew Llloyd Webber ranks a close 2nd.)

Posted by: tristero on February 24, 2004 08:39 AM

In mid 18th century London there was, of course, Handel. The giant of late 18th Century London musical life was certainly Haydn. Other luminaries include CPE Bach and others mentioned above.

One also must remember that the stars then, as now, were less the composers and more the performers. They are now forgotten for the most part, as most performers are prior to the invention of the phonograph/cd/video.

Oh, and Mozart was emphatically NOT supported by the market during most of his career, but by patronage, which expected no financial profit but rather prestige.

It was a very, very different world. 21st Century libertarians are simply foolishly oversimplifying in reading their philosophical prejudices back into Vienna of 1789 which simply is irrelevant to their blinkered worldview.

Posted by: tristero on February 24, 2004 08:52 AM

"Arts Councils and the like hardly have a track record of supporting great flowerings of creativity. Markets - including markets where a high proportion of the customers are wealthy aristocrats - do."

Two words: Ri diculous.

First of all, "great flowerings of creativity" depend upon so many interconnected variables that you cannot reliably point to one as the cause. In 1780's Vienna, they included, first and foremost, the awesome synthesis that Haydn, and to a lesser extent others, achieved by combining stile galant and other essentially homophonic styles with late baroque counterpoint. Obviously, economic forces aren't sufficent to explain Haydn's success, because other composers had similar, and even better, jobs than Haydn, and didn't succeed as well.

The second cause for the "great flowering of creativity" at this time was the one-two punch of Haydn, then Mozart, a once in a million artistic succession in which a supreme genius and a younger, even greater in some respects, genius not only lived at the same time but knew each other somewhat and were prepared to acknowledge each other's influence (at least for a time).

The economic background to all this is irrelevant. Whether the cash that supported these people came from rich counts/countesses/emperors or directly from the public purse (i.e. the taxes imposed by those rich counts, etc ) or from a public arts board (such as the board that approved commissions for Mozart's and Salieri's operas) is among the least important of the variables.

There is no reason under the sun why great public art today cannot be funded by a government arts council. And indeed, much of it has been. Laurie Anderson received numerous government grants including NEA. So has Steve Reich and Phil Glass (sometimes indirectly). In Germany, the development of electronic music, esp. Stockhausen's, was supported by government radio stations. Boulez's IRCAM, while troubled, certainly, has nevertheless done important basic research. And composers as diverse as Shostakovich, Part, Rautavaara, Copland, Carter, Stravinsky, etc etc etc ad nauseam, have written fabulous music with the help fo government grants, even when the government has been evil (Bob Wilson's early theater work was supported by the Iranian government of Reza Pahlevi, eg.)

Government support of the arts is a vital, but not the only, component to a robust artistic life. Is it a necessary one? Of course it is, but not in the way libertarians think. It is necessary because supporting the creation of art is what great cultures have always done.

In short, it is done for all but unquantifiable reasons that go to the very heart of a country's identity. Our support of NEA during its heyday identified the US as a society deeply concerned with perpetuating its great artististic institutions (eg the Met), supporting its regional artists (eg local weavers or fiddlers), and supporting the most diverse and challenging artistic avenues (eg Piss Christ and the other betes noire of the prigs).

Sure, if you have a mediocre mind, you can find many examples of government funded mediocre art. But you can find at least, if not more, mediocre art funded by corporations and patrons.

However, if you care about great art, you will quickly learn that there is zero correlation of where the funds came from and the greatness of the artistic achievement.

Posted by: tristero on February 24, 2004 09:23 AM

These debates about how much sponsorship hurt or helped art always run into the problem of anecdotalism.

Let's consider that in the literature and music of the twentieth century oppression and censorship did much to inspire some of the best work. Using the Mozart in Vienna vs. Lond in the 18th century as a model is like saying:

Shostakovich may have been the greatest symphonist Europe produced in the mid 20th c. North America and Europe had little comparable. Ergo a little Stalin didn't hurt.

Or else, look at the great books coming out of South America: Vargas Llosa, Marquez, etc. Or the wave of Eastern European success Solzhenitsyn, Bulgakov , Kundera, Skvorecky.

Should we conclude that patronage with repression is the ideal?

On the other hand, I would argue that in the US, the music produced for Hollywood by Korngold, Rosza and Hermmann was superior as concert music to the atonal horrors that "advanced" academic trends gave us.

Posted by: jn on February 24, 2004 09:37 AM

Tristero -- Let's see. You condescend. You ignore the points others make. You name-call ("mediocre minds"?). And we're supposed to bother with you why, exactly? I'm sure there are lots of other blogs, in any case, that'd be delighted to watch you pat yourself on the back as you turn in lordly, high-minded pirouettes.

JN -- "Patronage with repression" -- nicely put! I sometimes suspect that those are exactly the conditions some American artists wish they were working under. Hey, it'd be good for their art, and isn't that what it's all about?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 24, 2004 10:59 AM


What is the source of your statement:

Oh, and Mozart was emphatically NOT supported by the market during most of his career, but by patronage, which expected no financial profit but rather prestige.

According to Maynard Solomon's Mozart, which has an appendix dealing with Mozart's earnings, here are the sources for a few of his (top earning) years in Vienna, which as you recall is the subject of my post:

Entfuhrung aus dem Serail -- 426 florins
Teaching -- 648 florins
Academies [concerts] -600 florins
Salon appearances -- 500 florins
Total -- 2174 florins

Other possible income
Benefit performance of Entfuhrung -- 600 florins
Augarten concerts -- 300 florins
Earnings Range for 1782 -- 2,174 to 3,074


Academies -- 559 florins
Subscription concerts -- 1500 florins
Publications -- 900 florins
Total for 1785 -- 2,959 florins


Le nozze di Figaro -- 450 florins
Der Schauspieldirektor -- 225 florins
Academies -- 600 florins
Subscription concerts -- 600 florins
Publications -- 385 florins
Scores for Prince Furstenberg -- 119 florins
Private performance, Idomeneo -- 225 florins
Total -- 2,604 florins

Other possible income
Benefit performance of Figaro -- 600 florins
Salon appearances -- 500 florins
Earnings range for 1786 -- 2,604 to 3,704 florins

While Mozart did receive what appears to be patronage in Vienna, it was chiefly during his difficult years (1788-1790)and didn't make up for
the lost 'market' income. And during his last, most remunerative year, when he was digging out from under poverty, patronage is a small part of his earnings:

La Clemenza di Tito -- 900 florins
Die Zauberflote -- 900 florins
Requiem advance -- 225 florins
Salary (Imperial) -- 800 florins
Publications -- 550 florins
Teaching -- 297 florins
Total -- 3,672 florins

Other possible income
Sum to be received late June -- 2000 florins

Earnings range for 1791 -- 3,672 to 5,672 florins

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 24, 2004 11:02 AM

"I would argue that in the US, the music produced for Hollywood by Korngold, Rosza and Hermmann was superior as concert music to the atonal horrors that "advanced" academic trends gave us."

I'm sure you would. But you would be wrong. The world of Die Soldaten, the quartets of Carter, or the music of Rautavaara is a world I would never trade for the bloat of of Rosza. Hermann is an exception (sometimes).

"And we're supposed to bother with you why, exactly?"

Because I'm right, obviously. I suppose that was a rhetorical question and I guess, like most musicians, I don't have good social skills, duh.

Friedrich: I did say "most" of his career.

As a freelancer, Mozart had good years, he had bad years. He earned money from concert sales, yes, but he also received grants from the Emperor, from the church and borrowed from Michael Puchberg (sp? I don't have my copy of the Solomon handy). A good chunk of his $$ early on was made, of course, by receiving gifts.

Nozze was commissioned I believe by the government. I don't know about Tito or Entfuhring, Cosi, or Giovanni off the top of my head, but I don't know too many people who write that many operas on spec (although) I did know one who wrote 6 or 7. I think he gave up music, finally.

These operas were, of course, performed in state subsidized halls. 18th century Europe was not a hotbed of Rand style capitalism.

As for mediocre minds, what can I say. Great art is produced under dreadful conditions (Shostakovitch) or ideal ones (Merrill's poetry). It's produced by anti-semites (Stravinksy, Wagner, Pound) or by great souls (Copland), or by murderers (Gesualdo). But it takes a very special kind of mind to attribute primacy to one single factor in the production of great art. A mediocre kind of mind.

And it takes a very mediocre mind to privilege the source of the funds as the reason why Haydn, Mozart et al were so great over the extraordinary, and unique, cultural atmosphere of Vienna from circa 1750 to circa 1840 or so which had nothing to do with libertarian theories and everything to do with happy good luck for everyone, especially us.

Posted by: tristero on February 24, 2004 07:34 PM

Mr. Tristero:

You seem to refuting an argument I’m not making. My only point was that Mozart, temperamentally unsuited to playing the patronage game (as a result of his relationship with his extraordinarily manipulative father), had little choice if he wanted to make a go of things in Vienna other than to teach, compose for fees, publish his own works, and produce concerts featuring himself. Obviously, he would have been happy to receive an official position, preferably at a fat salary, but none was offered to him until quite late in the game, and even then at a salary which would not keep him solvent. Being in this position, it would have been quite useful to him if non-patronage sources of income were plentiful. They were not as plentiful in Vienna as they would have been in Paris, London or several other Northern European cities. This was largely because (1) Vienna was just plain backward economically and (2) because Imperial and aristocratic support of music had hindered the development of a private-sector music industry in the city. The fact that, as you note, theaters were state run and controlled, only supports my point: Vienna’s political economy was modeled on the France of Louis XIV, not on the London of Adam Smith. This fact did not work to Mozart’s advantage. Do you suggest that it did?

Despite the difficult situation he found himself in, Mozart worked his tail off and not only kept afloat, but lived pretty high on the hog as a result of his genius and incredibly hard work. And during his maturity in Vienna—the period so wrongly described in the play Amadeus—he made the clear majority of his money from sources other than being on the payroll of the Emperor or local aristocrats. Hence, the often-despised market was essential to much of his musical production during those, his most artistically fruitful years.

I have no particular thesis to offer regarding either Mozart’s or Haydn’s genius (or even Salieri’s talent), certainly not one revolving around ‘Rand style capitalism.’ I would note, in passing, however, that attributing their creativity to “the extraordinary, and unique, cultural atmosphere of Vienna from circa 1750 to circa 1840 or so” is not exactly a scientific hypothesis either. Are you suggesting that Imperial support of music over the preceding century had created this cultural atmosphere? It would be interesting to know why Imperial patronage was so much more successful than, say, the support for music by the National Endowment of the Arts in contemporary America. Also, I would note, such a theory does not explain the obvious decline that Viennese music suffered during most of the 19th century, when it continued to enjoy Imperial support. Still, I would be very interested in any ideas you have along these lines.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 24, 2004 08:30 PM

Ah, the question of art and repression!

Much (most?) great art is produced under conditions of some sort of difficulty and strife, whether financial, social (war, etc.), personal or otherwise. If it's not there from an external source, artists of whatever stripe (musical, visual, etc.) almost seem to need to make their own to create well.

How many of us are going to struggle to achieve greatness when we're fat, happy and comfortable?

It's the reason for the 'first album curse' of one hit wonders. The band will struggle mightily until they create something that clicks with the public when they are finally exposed to it (they get some 'buzz'). Then after that first big studio album, they've got it all, and come up empty the second time around. Most aren't lucky enough to pull another gem out of their ass on the 3rd go round, and hence disappear.

But some keep hitting!! That second album flop can light a fire under your ass big time; the greats usually get the repression via the nastiness of touring, and poop a good second one out their ass. Put 'em under that much pressure, and you they crumble or you get diamonds!

The modern A&R man's job is to figure out which musicians are which, or at least to make quasi-educated guesses.

I wonder how Mozart and friends from the past would deal with the system that's slowly emerging? P2P ripping the bottom out from under the profits of recorded music makes the live performer more important again, and has revivied tipping (online donations for unsigned artists with free mp3's) and patronage (aka "sponsorships" to us modern folk :-) But then of course you get Moby, not Mozart.

Oh, and when did 'cover band' become a dirty word (phrase)? Seems that that's what every orchestra in the world is! Another good thing (IMHO) that the Net has wrought is that kids these days are starting to respect performance ("good version! no, THIS is the original!") and derivative works more (via remixes, 'mash ups' and similar).

So everything old is new again, and some economic forms of support for music that were forgotten in the glare of recorded music and the star system are coming back.

But we'll always have pop music of uneven quality, as the fact that it's sponsored by His Imperial Holiness, Warner Bro. or Pepsi never changes the fact of it's inherant spectacle and it's being hostage to the whims of public taste.

But the Net let's more niche genre artists survive in the shadows, and more music is a good thing.

Posted by: David Mercer on February 26, 2004 05:16 AM

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