Everyone knows the Mozart myth.
His talent was so great that he wrote symphonies in his sleep, but he mismanaged his money and was buried in a pauper's grave.
Things are different today for successful classical composers. Some, like Krzysztof Penderecki and Luciano Berio, are reputed to be millionaires.
How much money would Mozart make if he were alive today?
"He'd be a multimillionaire," says composer Lalo Schifrin, adding, as many did, "but he'd need a good agent."
"As a recording artist," says industry executive Michael Olsen, "Mozart would make more than Paul McCartney."
"If he were alive and I were his publisher, I'd be talking to you from my Rolls Royce limousine," says Tom Broido, in charge of performance promotion for leading classical publisher Theodore Presser.
"Mozart's fee per concert could be as much as $100,000," says Michael Blachly, associate director of UCLA's Center for the Performing Arts.
Mozart merchandising mania last surfaced--the 1984 movie "Amadeus" aside--in 1977 when the European division of Philips Classics released a mammoth collection of 145 LPs arranged according to genre and packaged in 16 moss-green, gold-imprinted boxes taking up more than two feet of shelf-space.
But that wasn't enough for Philips' Japanese division. They offered 183 LPs (the extras were devoted to rarities and works by other composers) and arranged them, compulsively, in chronological order. The set, which came packaged in its own bookcase, included a new biography and a revised version of the standard Koechel catalogue of Mozart's works. Nippon Phonogram's efforts were rewarded. Over a three-year period, the Japanese edition sold 3,500 copies (640,500 LPs) and rang the cash register for 1.274 billion yen (about $10 million).
Seven years before "Amadeus."
There was no sentiment attached to the project. According to Nippon Phonogram executive Tadaatsu Atarashi, Philips "did not have any special reasons to compile the edition at the time but commercial ones."
Translation: They wanted to make money on Mozart.
Now that it's 1991, the 200th anniversary of Mozart's death, everyone has a special reason to make money on Mozart.
The live concert world is dominated by the Mozart Bicentennial at Lincoln Center, 500 events stretching through August 1992, during which time all of Mozart's works will be performed by the Center's eleven resident companies. There will be ballets, films, exhibits, lectures and theater works. Coordinating costs alone are estimated at close to $3 million; the actual production costs are incalculable.
This year's Salzburg Festival--in Mozart's birthplace--will feature six Mozart operas plus the world premiere of an opera by Helmut Eder called "Mozart in New York." Mozart-mania is also evident in Vienna, Nice and San Francisco.
Locally, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra has begun a series of five concerts titled "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Portrait of an Artist," recreating the look and feel of concerts Mozart might have staged. The L.A. Philharmonic, which had initially taken a casual attitude toward the Bicentennial, will devote a block of four Hollywood Bowl concerts in August to Mozart. On Dec. 5, Mozart's birthday, the Philharmonic will stage a 12-hour Mozart Marathon at the Music Center. And the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg appears at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on March 4.
You can catch Mozart on the tube too. Bravo began showing eight operas in authentically staged productions filmed especially for television by Rainer Moritz at the unique 18th-Century theater in Drottningholm, Sweden, beginning last week with "The Marriage of Figaro." In June, the Metropolitan Opera's new production of "The Magic Flute" will air on PBS, which just finished airing Peter Sellars' controversial trilogy of Mozart operas.
For musicians, the authoritative Baerenreiter edition of Mozart's complete works is being published in a 20-volume paperback set. At $1,425 it will be an dearly coveted, if expensive, treasure.
For its part, Philips has updated the 1977 concept to a 180-CD set called "The Complete Mozart Edition." The "standard" version, which is now being released in the United States, comes packaged in 45 volumes (7 now available; the rest scheduled for release between now and November).
Not surprisingly, the Japanese division has again repackaged the set. Although its version contains the same number of CDs, it comes in 15 gorgeous volumes each with a full-size, fully illustrated, 200-page book. The Japanese edition is being sold exclusively through Shogakukan, Japan's largest book club, for 380,000 yen (about $3,000). Sales have already exceeded 7,000 copies. Another $21 million for Mozart!
Most recording companies are jumping on the Mozart bandwagon, bringing out a bewildering number of new and re-released recordings. London has a 20-CD set called "The Mozart Almanac," supervised and annotated by H. C. Robbins Landon (known for his book "1791: Mozart, the Final Year"). Sony Classical is remastering Murray Perahia's prize-winning set of the piano concertos and expects big things from two popularly-devised, 5-CD sets: 100 Mozart Melodies and Compact Mozart.
Angel has released 12 historical Mozart sets including famous piano concerto recordings by Walter Gieseking, Edwin Fischer and Artur Schnabel, and offers a series of multiple-CD repackagings called the Deluxe Limited Gold
Mozart Edition. BMG Classics is bringing back the original-instrument Collegium Aureum recordings at mid-price while offering treasures all across their lines.
Trying to calculate how much money Mozart could have made from these and similar projects, plus endorsements, personal appearances and movie and television work is an awesome task.
Moreover, to a public which has become comfortable with the poverty-stricken Mozart, the idea of an affluent Amadeus may come as a shock.
Contrary to the popular image, however, Mozart was not poor by choice or irresponsibility. "He was," musicologist Julia Moore says, "less a victim of poor money management than of a system of musical patronage in radical transition."
Contrary to the claims of recent biographers who peg Mozart's earnings in his own lifetime in the middle-class range--perhaps as high as $70,000 per year when translated into modern terms--Moore argues that trying to express Mozart's income in 1991 terms is impossible because he lived in a largely non-cash economy.
"Aristocrats of Mozart's time," Moore explains, "supported their enormous households with crops, livestock, dairy products, wild game and firewood. . . . Despite their great wealth, aristocrats were cash poor. They frequently 'paid' free-lance musicians not with cash but with gifts--watches, snuff boxes and so forth--which they had 'purchased' from artisans who were also frequently paid in kind (free lodging and meals, for example, supplemented by small cash payments)."
In addition to not having much cash, the aristocracy were an unreliable source of income. They put on concerts to show off themselves more often than the music. "There was no expectation," Moore says, "that the composer would always get paid cash for doing one of these concerts."
The system is better now. Classical music is a firmly established branch of the entertainment business. Worldwide sales of classical recordings could top $1 billion this year. In Los Angeles and New York, and in countries like France and Japan, sales of classical compact discs account for 10-12% of total CD sales.
Estimating Mozart's earnings circa 1991, however, proves an elusive task. A representative from ASCAP, along with BMI the primary administrator of composers' royalties, admits that it would be "a long shot to estimate" and points out that "Mozart's not a member, so we don't track his performances."
But SACEM, the leading French rights and royalties reporting organization, recently estimated that Mozart's income from royalties would be $20 million per year.
For recordings, Mozart would probably negotiate a deal appropriate to his stature, maybe 60 cents a record, a percentage and a signing fee. The Japanese Mozart Edition set by itself could net him $1 million, and that represents only a small percentage of worldwide Mozart recordings sales.
Although Mozart would probably make the bulk of his money today from recordings, Tom Evered, former marketing director for Angel, doesn't know whether any label could afford to record everything he wrote. "We'd probably only record his hits," Evered says. "We could make money on 'Eine kleine Nachtmusik' and some of the later symphonies, but the other things would be problematic. The solution might be an all-Mozart label."
Evered admits that a company could probably make its money back on someone as multifaceted as Mozart. "His live recordings would probably be enormously successful," Evered says, "because he improvised so well. There's nobody like that now. Or if there is, they don't have a record contract."
John Duffy, who heads Meet the Composer, a New York organization which has helped classical composers attain financial respectability, says that today more than ever before, classical composers are earning their living exclusively from composing by combining commissioning fees (up to $50,000 for half-hour works), recording rights, residuals and performance royalties. (Performance royalties for composers, simply stated, are divided into grand rights for theatrical presentations such as opera and ballet and petit rights for concert performances.)
Operas are more financially rewarding than symphonies. According to Duffy, Philip Glass receives between $150,000-$200,000 to write a full-length opera. Once the piece has been written, royalties in the major opera houses, according to Duffy, "can be as high as $15,000 per performance."
Patricia Mitchell, deputy general manager of the Music Center Opera, confirms these figures in rough terms and adds that, like the composers, the opera company is primarily concerned with a new opera's staying power. "We're co-producing John Adams' new opera, 'Death of Klinghoffer,' " she says, "and what makes it nerve wracking is that you have no way of knowing whether it will live on in the repertoire--not whether it's an immediate hit, but whether it will take on a life of its own." If it doesn't stay in the repertoire, the enormous production costs can never be recouped.
There might be a downside to Mozart's returning and wanting to collect.
"If the majority of the music we played was by Mozart, and we had to rent it and pay royalties," says Deborah Rutter, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra's executive director, "we'd be in deep trouble."
But publisher Broido does not see that as much of a deterrent. "What the public wants and demands," he says, "people usually find a way to pay for. If there is money to be made selling Mozart's music, there would be financing. As long as the public is willing to buy, the purveyors will produce."
Delta Music's Jerome Stine, whose LaserLight budget CD label moves its 40 Mozart titles aggressively nationwide, agrees. "The record sales of contemporary pop artists like Michael Jackson and Madonna aren't hurt by the high royalties they receive," Stine says. "Performances of Andrew Lloyd Webber's works aren't curbed because of royalties. It makes everybody wealthy, that's all."
What would Mozart do with his money?
Gamble it away, perhaps, and play the Vegas circuit.
Go barnstorming with a pick-up orchestra.
Mozart might not be as punctilious as the late Aaron Copland, often referred to as America's wealthiest classical composer, a man who kept meticulous track of his earnings. Like Copland, however, he would probably want to know, whenever a proposal concerning his music came up, whether he could make any money on it.
And if he were going to be paid, why not be paid fairly? To many people today, however, the notion of producing great music for money tarnishes the image of art, a holdover from the Romantic ideal of an artist working to satisfy his or her own soul. "We tend to treat music as a product for hire," composer Stephen Hartke laments. Once a work has been paid for, Hartke says, society resists a continuing financial obligation.
Even the most Romantic souls, however, will appreciate the continuing inequities of the current system in which a conductor is often paid more to conduct a work one time than the composer has been paid to write it. "Even though," Hartke says, "the conductor only has to learn it once."
Some consolation may lie in a report from the Indianapolis International Violin Competition.
According to its director, Tom Biczykiewicz, the 1990 contest celebrated the Mozart Anniversary by requiring that a Mozart concerto be played as part of the final phase of competition.
"The impact of this addition was considerable," Biczykiewicz said. "The three medal winners were by general consensus the three best Mozarteans, suggesting that the jury was looking for the highest level of musicianship rather than technical competence."
At last, a Mozartean ray of musical hope.