How affordable were these concerts?

The price of a “popular” ticket was cheap and held remarkably steady. Tickets less than 1 mark could still be found in 1907, and only the premium seats of a popular concert would cost more than 2 M. This held from about 1880 to at least 1907, with a regular ticket usually not more than 5 M.1This data is based on ads in the Berliner Tageblatt and reports in the music journals about these concerts. I haven’t looked at prices beyond 1907 yet. In 1893, for instance, pianist Teresa Carreño gave a concert with the price range of 5 to 1 M in the Bechstein Hall (500 seats, pictured above, bottom right). Around the same time pianist Clothilde Kleeberg gave a popular concert in the Philharmonie, which was more than twice as large (pictured top right); the prices were from 3 to 1 M.2These were also the prices for the 1886-87 season. In 1900 Eugène Ysaÿe gave a “Sonata Abend” with cellist Hugo Becker at the Beethoven Hall (1000 seats, pictured bottom left); tickets were 5, 3, and 2 M. Ysaÿe gave a popular concert in the Philharmonie on his own soon after; prices were 3, 2.50, 2, and 1 M. The Philharmonic with Nikisch conducting commanded 6 M. for a “loge”; the other prices were 5, 3.50 and 1 M. (The problem here was the lack of tickets for any price, with subscriptions selling out the season in advance.)
If you were looking for a bargain, you would want to subscribe to a series; even better would be a series of popular concerts. In 1905 the Holländisches Trio, for instance, offered 5 popular Sunday concerts for 7.50 and 4 M at the Beethoven Hall. Another group, the Philharmonisches Trio, advertised 7 concerts for 5 M. These were held in the smaller Oberlichtsaal of the Philharmonie, where there were tables for food and drink. The Wietrowetz Quartet’s three concert series was not designated “popular,” but it was held at the new Hochschule’s concert hall and could be had for 9, 6 or 3 M. For these three instances from 1905, the most expensive ticket was 3 M and the cheapest would be 1 M or less. On the other hand, Lilli Lehmann’s four popular Lieder evenings at the Philharmonie were going for 10 M or 14 for a loge.

Concerts were more expensive in Boston. For the 1909-10 season, the famed Kneisel Quartet offered a package of 7 concerts for $10. With the mark being equivalent to 25 cents, that would price their series at 40 M. Conversely, the Philharmonic Trio in Berlin was asking the equivalent of $1.25 for their seven concerts.

It can get complicated fast when trying to determine affordability by comparing to today. Taking inflation into account, $1 in 1907 was the equivalent of $27.04 in 2019. That means the Philharmonic Trio concerts were less than $5 each in today’s money, while the Kneisel’s concerts were about $38 each. But that isn’t the whole story. What was the supply versus demand? What else was disposable income spent on?  How often were these tickets purchased? Was it considered a special splurge, or a regular indulgence?

Well, let’s say you decided to go out to dinner instead of a concert. On the same page of ads for the 1905 concerts there are menus advertised from the “Restaurant Riche,” Under den Linden 27. Dinner and suppers of four courses (soup, fish, meat, and dessert) were 3 M (about $20 in today’s money). Alternatively, there were suppers starting at 2 M. at the Otto Mamsch Weinstube. You could go to the Zoo for 50 pfennigs, but only on Sundays.

The reports on the Berlin popular concerts in the English-language music journals emphasized how these concerts were a part of everyday life for Berlin families, who would bring sandwiches and drink beer, smoke or do needlework. They also remarked on how it seemed everyone was musical. This description of a middle-class married couple, for instance, is from an 1897 account for the American journal Music:

I like the simple German gentleman who closes the day of work with an evening’s recreation at the Philharmonie. He enjoys music, and he listens attentively.  I have heard him hiss once or twice when American students talked or whispered, and I have seen him, with arms akimbo, struggling to secure a place at the garderobe, where he must secure his wife’s hat and coat, and his own hat and umbrella, which latter article he never forgets.3Edith Lynwood Winn, “Concerning Music Study in Berlin,” Music v. 12 (1897), 451-61.

Finally, there is Theodor Fontane’s 1893 novella Frau Jenny Treibel, which is a textbook example of “distinction,” where class differences are evident in every single aspect of a character’s behavior. In the opening scene, the professor’s daughter Corinna has just got home from the Philharmonic.

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2 thoughts on “How affordable were these concerts?

  1. Thank you for answering my question from last week. I think this is totally fascinating; also that you can somewhat reconstruct quite a detailed picture of daily musical life from a century ago. Figuring out how personal finances functioned must be some of the trickiest work out there. I am also struck by the stability of prices.

    By the way, on a separate note, I want to say that this way of producing scholarship is quite thrilling. And being able to interact with the author as the study is in development is a really enriching experience.

  2. Agreed, Nicholas. I’m not sure I would read about concert life in Berlin in 1907 in another format with nearly so much enthusiasm. But these entries keep me in contact with the topic and curious to see what I’ll learn next.

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