FACT: “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.”

Quarter Notes and Bank Notes: The Economics of Music Composition in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
by 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 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.

“In a bold interdisciplinary foray, Dr. Scherer has used his highly regarded economist’s skills to explore how leading European composers managed to support themselves during the 18th and 19th centuries. The result is an absorbing study of how creative artists adapted to the vast economic and social changes that occurred around them during the greatest era of musical composition.”—Derek Bok, Harvard University

We invite you to read Chapter 1 here: