How do you compare with the salaries of the great composers?

Many of the best known classical composers enjoyed very different financial fortunes during their careers. Based on the incomes of eleven great composers, this infographic enables you to find out how you compare with the likes of Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. Of course, it’s important to bear in mind that such figures are never entirely accurate since many currencies used have long since ceased to exist and the cost of living has changed.

Composers salaries
Infographic made by

J.S. Bach, £28,000

Bach was employed in Leipzig as the Thomaskantor from 1723 until his death in 1750. For his post, which required him to compose an oratorio each week for the Sunday church service, he was paid 700 thalers. His salary increased with the number of funerals, as he is famously quoted as having written.

Ludwig van Beethoven, nearly £100,000

After moving to Vienna in the 1790s, Beethoven agreed to remain there for the rest of his life in 1809 in exchange for the paying of an annual sum of 4,000 florins. The agreement was made with Archduke Rudolph, Prince Lobkowitz and Prince Kinsky. As a result, Beethoven had to reject the prospect of becoming kapellmeister in Kassel, an offer he had been made by Napoleon’s brother Jerome.

Richard Wagner, £28,598

Wagner had money problems throughout his life, in part due to his lavish lifestyle. He fled creditors in Dresden in 1849 after building up debts of 20,000 thalers. In the same year, he received wages of 1,500 thalers.

Joseph Haydn, nearly £10,000

Haydn was employed by the noble Esterhäzy family from 1761 until 1790 when he went on his famous tour to London. A contract from 1761 shows that he was paid 400 florins annually in quarterly installments. When he left the service of the Esterhazy in 1790, he received a pension of 1,400 florins.

Scott Joplin, £10,959

Joplin frequently confronted financial difficulties throughout his career, especially when he spent time making a living as a traveling musician. The Maple Leaf Rag, released in 1899, came to be his best-known work. Sales of the piece in 1909 would have given him $600, or $15,802 in today’s money, based on the contract he signed in 1899 guaranteeing him a 1 percent share of all sales.

Claude Debussy, £206,997

Debussy’s income varied significantly from year to year, from its high points of around 45,000 francs in 1910 and 1912 to just 5,000 francs in 1907. The composer died in 1918 with debts of more than 66,000 francs.

Clara Schumann, £32,381

Schumann was a great composer in her own right but did not receive much recognition for this during her lifetime. She earned 5,000 thalers as a concert pianist between 1854 and 1856. This came at a time when Robert Schumann’s illness reached a new stage of severity, meaning that he regularly suffered hallucinations and found it difficult to sleep. He died in 1856.

Edward Elgar, £3,362

Elgar was another musician who struggled to establish himself at first. Between 1879 and 1884, he worked as bandleader for the Powick Asylum in Worcester, for which he was paid a flat fee of £30. He earned 1s. 6d for additional accompaniments and 5s. for a polka or quadrille. He was forced to move back to his native Worcestershire in 1891 from London due to a lack of work. This all changed by the turn of the century when he emerged as the preeminent composer in Britain.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, £5,429

Tchaikovsky was appointed professor of music theory and the Moscow Conservatory in 1865, where he received a modest salary of 50 rubles a month. He continued in this post until 1878, while at the same time continuing to work on his compositions.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, nearly £100,000

Mozart’s income is based on an estimate of 3,000-4,000 florins in the last decade of his life. This was the world’s away from when he was earning 150 florins a year during the 1770s as a court musician in Salzburg.

Antonio Vivaldi, £10,000

Vivaldi’s salary of 100 ducats a year was earned as music director at an orphanage in Venice. Later in his career, he attracted commissions from European royalty, including Louis XV of France and Emperor Charles VI of the Holy Roman Empire.

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