Last month we looked at what some of history’s most famous scientists would earn if they were being paid today. As it was so much fun we decided to revisit the topic, but instead took a look at some of the most iconic composers from Europe (and one from America).
It was more difficult to put a modern day figure on the likes of Mozart, Beethoven and Wagner than Einstein or Curie for a few reasons. For a start, a lot of the musicians we took a look at were paid in long dead currencies such as thalers, ducats and florins – then there’s the fact that composers were also more likely to have made supplemental income from compositions and tutoring.
Nevertheless, even with the usual caveats – there are admittedly a few problems with comparing 18th century incomes with 21st century incomes – we still thought you’d want to know if you’re out-earning the musical superstars of their day. So without further ado, why not take a look at the modern day incomes of famous composers:
JS Bach – £28,000
Bach was paid 700 thalers as a schoolmaster in Leipzig from 1723-1750. Room and board was paid for, and he is thought to have made extra money on the side from composing and personal tuition.
Ludwig van Beethoven – Nearly £100,000
Beethoven was paid 4,000 florins a year from 1809 on the condition that he remained in Vienna for the rest of his life. This allowance was originally paid by three patrons, but after the death of Prince Lobkowitz and Prince Kinsky, Archduke Rudolph paid the amount in full until Beethoven died in 1827.
Richard Wagner – £28,598
Wagner was paid a salary of 1,500 thalers in 1849 – the same year that he fled Dresden with debts of 20,000 thalers.
Joseph Haydn – nearly £10,000
Haydn was hired by the wealthy Esterházy family as a ‘Kapellmeister’ (essentially a director of music). A contract from 1761 showed he was paid 400 florins a year, received in quarterly payments, and with food and lodgings provided.
Scott Joplin – £10,959
Sales for Joplin’s most famous piece are thought to have hit 500,000 in 1909. Assuming royalties earnt Joplin one cent per copy, he would have earned around $600 from this one piece of music alone.
Claude Debussy – £206,997
The height of Debussy’s total income was over 45,000 francs a year in 1910 and 1912, which included composing in London for 200 guineas (5,000 francs). However, his lavish lifestyle meant he spent around 20,000 francs a year even when he was earning much less (under 5,000 francs in 1907 for example), and he died in 1918 with a debt of 66,235 francs.
Clara Schumann – £32,381
Schumann was largely responsible for supporting her children and husband who, himself a famous composer, was unable to play his own pieces. From 1854-1856 she earned a total of 5,000 thalers – more than her husband over a 4 year period.
Edward Elgar – £3,362
As musical director at Powick Country Lunatic Asylum, Elgar earned a flat rate of £30 a year. He topped up his income with compositions at a rate of 1s. 6d for an accompaniment to a Christy Minstrel song and 5s. per polka or quadrille.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – £5,429
Tchaikovsky’s role as Professor of Music Theory at the newly opened Moscow Conservatory came with a modest 50 rubles per month salary, but his career was already on the up: the appointment coincided with the first public performance of his work at Pavlovsk Park.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Nearly £100,000
Mozart’s income from teaching, performance and publication is thought to have averaged 3,000-4,000 florins in the decade before he died. This would’ve afforded him an upper middle class lifestyle in 18th century Vienna – a far cry from the popular view that he died a pauper.
Antonio Vivaldi – £10,000
Vivaldi made 100 ducats a year as the Maestro di Capella at the Ospedale della Pietà, a girls’ orphanage in Venice, as well as bonuses for the composition of new works. Tourists are said to have flocked to hear Vivaldi leading the Ospedale orchestra.