This month’s topic for the PF Bloggers Network Group Writing Project is “Rich People Gone Broke.” Our chosen subject for this project is Wolfgang Mozart, one of the greatest composers that ever lived. While a genius in everything musical, he was less lucky when it came to money management.
Prodigy and Breadwinner
Mozart first went to work at the age of five. As a child prodigy, he traveled extensively and made a living as performer, composer, conductor and curiosity. These travels were documented by his family’s letters to their friends in Salzburg.
At first Leopold proudly related the enormous sums of money earned by his children, especially Wolfgang, and described the generous (resalable) gifts they received from kings and princes. Then he got wise and began to conceal their earnings, claiming that they made virtually no profit after expenses. This later strategy made it hard for us to know the exact amount of Wolfgang’s earnings, but it was surely a fortune. In addition to cash, the gifts accumulated on these journeys were mostly made of gold and were described by a friend to resemble a church treasury.
Until age 23, Wolfgang Mozart increased his family’s wealth on journeys in Austria, England, Italy, Paris, and other places where he was often received by royalty and nobility. If they did not collect enough gifts at one location, Leopold sold tickets to the public to hear his children perform—anything to make a buck . . or a florin. But this venue lost him some patronage because the upper class didn’t want anything the commoners had.
Although Leopold successfully concealed the earning of his children, it is clear that Wolfgang Mozart was the primary breadwinner of his family, and as such was jealously guarded from theft. His trips were always chaperoned by one or both parents, his father constantly warned him about the deceitful and ensnaring nature of women, and his mother whisked him off to Paris (at the orders of his father) to save him from a girl he desperately wanted to marry.
Rebellion and High Living
“I could not go about Vienna looking like a tramp, particularly just at this time. My linen was pitiable; no servant here has shirts of such coarse stuff as mine, — and that certainly is a frightful thing for a man. Consequently there were again expenditures.” – Vienna, September 5, 1781, in a letter to his father
Mozart’s financial troubles began when he rebelled against his father (after his mother died) and quit his unfulfilling job (something we all understand) as the Archbishop’s musician. In his time, musicians were regarded as craftsmen and ranked as servants in a household, but Mozart’s early experience of being cherished by the highest people in society convinced him that he was special and caused him to be offended by this condition.
Mozart’s early career furthermore harmed his financial prospects by giving him a taste for high living and expensive clothes. The Empress Maria Theresia even once gave him clothes outgrown by her own children and to the end of his days, he was said to have a love of buttons.
Mozart lived a bohemian existence in Vienna, getting the occasional commission, putting on concerts, giving lessons, and selling published works. By comparing the currency of the time with the USD in 1989 William and Hilda Baumol estimate Mozart’s average income during his Vienna years to be about $175,000 annually. His opera The Marriage of Figaro alone earned a fee of $30,000, the same amount as his annual rent.
He would have had enough to live on had he not “needed” luxurious apartments and clothes. Mozart excused his extravagances by saying that he had to look and live a certain way to fit in with his noble patrons. We have to admit that to a degree he was justified in needing premises to teach and the best piano available at the time. His wife was said to be equally extravagant a spender and in later years spent much time at a spa, supposedly for an illness but possibly carrying on an affair.
In later years, Mozart’s financial state became increasingly desperate. His earnings decreased drastically due to inflation and the economical climate during the Turkish War. There are also rumors that the court composer Salieri sabotaged him somewhat (but didn’t kill him). His failure to secure a permanent post may be because he was not respectfully servile and lacked Beethoven’s ability win everyone’s love while being terribly rude.
To make matters worse, Mozart’s father died and left everything to his sister to punish Mozart for deserting the family business. Much of the money bequeathed to Anna Maria was likely to have been earned by Wolfgang in his youth and concealed from him by his father. He was not even allowed one of the many trinkets given to him at his performances. The disowned son was reduced to begging loans from his friends and the clandestine composition of a Requiem which he failed to complete before he died.
Sadly, things were starting to look up for Mozart at the time of his death. His last opera, The Magic Flute, had made him immensely popular and he had been appointed the next Kapellmeister at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. But had he lived to enjoy a larger income, who is to say he would not have incurred proportionately larger debts? Would he have increased his standard of living and the number of buttons on his coat to keep up with his new degree of fame?
As for his wife, Constanze Mozart became a shrewd businesswoman when she found herself a widow with two young children. After her “friend” and Mozart’s student Süβmayr completed the mysterious requiem, Constanze cheated Mozart’s customer Count Walsegg who intended to perform the piece as his own composition. She pretended ignorance of the exclusiveness of the contract and sold the work to a publisher . . . after she sold Count Walsegg his copy. She procured a pension from the Emperor and took advantage of her status as a poverty-stricken widow to make sizable amounts of money with benefit concerts.
The Mozart family prospered. The widow made a good living selling the works of her late husband, putting on concerts with his music, and later writing his biography with her second husband. Though poor in life, Wolfgang Mozart was able to provide for his family in death and in that sense, was not a financial failure.
- Mozart: A Life
- On Mozart (Woodrow Wilson Center Press)
- Mozart: The Man and the Artist Revealed in His Own Words
* * *
About the PF Bloggers Group Writing Project
The Personal Finance Bloggers Network currently consists of 8 active personal finance and frugal living blogs. The Group Writing Project is a monthly project wherein each blog will write a post on a pre-determined topic and publish it on the same day of each month. Be sure to visit the PF Bloggers Group Writing Project page for the others!
Extended Group Writing Project Invitation
If you are a blogger, we would like to invite you to write your own post on this topic and submit it for listing with our entries on our Group Writing Project pages. Please visit the following page for details on how to participate in our Extended Group Writing Project.