Music for Money

Harold Bauer on the cover of the Musical Courier, November 1901

How much did musicians make playing concerts?

As we know, playing in an orchestra was poorly paid. In 1879 a cello position in the Wiesbaden Cur Orchester was advertised as having an annual salary of 1608 M. Thirty years later the amount for similar positions had not significantly increased.
Being in charge of the music for a city did not earn much either: in 1880 the music directorship at Marburg was listed as 2100 M. 
In 1910 the Berlin Philharmonic regular members were happy to finally make 200 M a month, while their counterpart, the Königliche Kapelle, made 125-150 M a month.

On the other end of the spectrum: Richard Strauss signed a 10-year contract as Hofkapellmeister to Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1898. For the first three years he made 18,000 M, thereafter increasing to 20,000 M a year. He received 2 months’ summer vacation and 1 month’s winter vacation. After 10 years he would qualify for a pension of 4200 M a year.


In 1900 Fritz Kreisler made his Berlin debut and signed with the Hermann Wolff concert agency. He recalled that during those first years of his fame, he made between 10,000 and 12,000 M a year “which was quite something in those days.”1Paul Lochner, Fritz Kreisler, 65. Converted into dollars and taking inflation into account, this would be around $93,000 in today’s money; relative to what an unskilled worker makes today, it would be about $470,000. However, this way of making money required almost constant travel and concertizing.

The main expenses for giving a concert were the hall rental and the supporting players. In 1909, the cost of playing one 3-hour rehearsal and one performance with the Philharmonic in the Philharmonie was 800 M. Any further rehearsals were 300 M each. The violinist Willy Burmester recounted that for his 1894 Berlin debut, which caused a sensation and made him an overnight success, he had to pay out 1100 M for the concert, and the proceeds were only 65 M because most of the tickets had been given away in order to fill the hall.2Willy Burmester, Fifty Years as a Concert Violinist, trans. Robert Franke (Swand Publications, 1975), 69.

In 1900, the pianist Harold Bauer made his first appearances in the U.S. Pianists at that time had the perk of sponsorship by piano manufacturers who wanted them to endorse their products. Bauer’s concerts were paid for by his piano sponsor, Mason and Hamlin. As Bauer recalled in his memoirs, he was initially dumbfounded at how much money he made in Boston, which was more than anywhere in Europe.3Harold Bauer, Harold Bauer – His Book (New York: W.W. Norton,1948), 157.But he soon discovered that expenses were even higher. Bauer’s American tour was 3 months and  30 concerts long. After paying traveling expenses, his manager, and his advertising bills (which included being on the cover of the Musical Courier), there was almost nothing left. However, the publicity he received from the U.S. tour helped his upcoming European concerts so much that, in retrospect, it was worth it after all.

Finally, in November 1907, the Musical Courier reported on the Spanish piano prodigy Pepito Arriolo. He was 9 years old and made 1500 M per concert–about as much as most orchestra members made in a year. No wonder there were so many child prodigies!

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One thought on “Music for Money

  1. Great stuff! I guess, for comparison, it would be interesting to know what a loaf of bread cost. I read somewhere that the price of bread and gold has remained astonishing stable (when factored against inflation) over the last several centuries

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