This week, money is on the mind of the Ether Game Brain Trust as the deadline for filing taxes passes us by. Browse our playlist featuring the financial dealings behind classical music with "Makin' a Mint."
Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868) Il Turco in Italia: Overture Many composers work at their craft untiringly until they are old and gray. Rossini did not. In the 1810s and 20s, his quick rise to prominence and the vast popularity of his operas left him extremely wealthy—so much so that after 1829 at 38 years old, he retired from opera entirely. Historians continue to speculate on the exact reason for Rossini’s early retirement, finding it hard to believe that an artist of his caliber and success could simply step away from the craft. However, with money no longer an issue, Rossini did not step away from composing altogether. For the next 20 years, he composed for the French salon and the privileged elite rather than the public. Rossini adored the salons and even started his own, the Samedi Soirs, with his wife in 1858. They became internationally famous, and over 150 of Rossini's later works were written for salon performances.
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) Sinfonia spirituosa in D, TWV 44:D1 Georg Philipp Telemann was the most prolific composer of the late Baroque, as well as one of the most savvy businessmen of the era. Besides the income he earned from selling collections of music to both amateurs and professionals, Telemann also knew how to squeeze his employers for a higher salary. In 1722, Telemann applied for an open position in a prominent German city. Upon winning the job he informed the Hamburg council that unless he was granted a substantial pay increase, he intended to leave his post for another position with better working conditions. At the last minute, Hamburg succumbed to his ultimatum, and Telemann backed out of his new job. Having been jilted by their famous applicant, the city of Leipzig settled on the lesser known Johann Sebastian Bach for their new Kantor.
Arthur James Johnston (1898- 1954) Pennies from Heaven A jazz standard and American Songbook classic, Pennies from Heaven was first introduced by Bing Crosby in the 1936 musical comedy film of the same name. Based on a novel by Leslie Moore, the film follows a street singer named Larry Poole who has been wrongly imprisoned. While in jail, he promises a fellow inmate to help him atone for the unintentional murder of the father of a young girl named Patsy. Larry joins the circus to raise money for Patsy, while also trying to save her from a welfare worker who wants to put Patsy in an orphanage. In the end, Larry and the welfare worker become romantically involved and decide to adopt Patsy. Many Depression-era bandleaders recorded Pennies from Heaven, with several recordings topping the charts in 1936.
Franz Schubert (1797-1828) String Quartet in d, D. 810 'Death and the Maiden' When we think of musical instruments that are considered the most precious, or the most highly valued, a Stradivarius violin might come to mind. However Antonio Stradivari made many other instruments, including cellos, guitars and harps, and it is his violas which are considered the most rare. Out of the thousand instruments he made over his lifetime, Stradivarius only made 15 violas. It is one viola in particular, the “Macdonald” viola which set a record for the most expensive instrument ever made. Its last owner was Peter Schindlof of the Amadeus Quartet, and when the violist died in 1987, the heirs of his estate put the Macdonald viola in a safe for 30 years, ensuring that when the viola was put up for auction at Sotheby’s in 2014, it was the only Stradivarius viola left available for private purchase. However this strategy backfired, because after Sotheby’s slapped a 45 million dollar price tag on the viola, there was a minor scandal. The Macdonald viola still has yet to find a buyer.
Charles Ives (1874-1954) Three Places in New England While many composers had professions other than music, for Charles Ives, composing music was his other profession. Ives attended Yale University, where he studied composition under Horatio Parker, but he also showed an interest in other pursuits. After college, he went into the insurance business, becoming a very successful insurance agent and a mostly unknown amateur composer. Around 1930, at the age of 55, he retired from both pursuits. It was also around this time that his compositions were finally beginning to be recognized by his musical contemporaries. Composer Henry Cowell was an especially enthusiastic supporter of Ives, and he convinced conductor Nicolas Slonimsky to conduct the premiere of Three Places In New England. Slonimsky premiered the work in 1930, over 15 years after Ives wrote it. Yet Ives had to fund the concert himself—which was only possible because of the money he earned as an insurance agent!
Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) Oberon: Overture Weber's late operas would usher in a golden age of German Romantic opera. Conversely, his early career was fraught with frustration. An idealist at heart, his first attempts to reform German opera were met with hostility. Fed up with the resistance, he left behind the public theater to become a Private Secretary to Duke Ludwig, brother to the king of Wurttemberg. While a brilliant musician, Weber was a poor administrator. He fell deeply into debt and transferred money from the ducal funds to pay off his own credit. He was arrested for embezzlement, but the criminal charges against him were mysteriously dropped. This prompted speculation that Weber was privy to suspected corruption at the Wurttemberg court, and that Duke Ludwig valued his silence. Weber returned to music, composing several operas that would cement his success as a professional composer. We just listened to the overture to Oberon, the last opera he would complete before his death in 1826.
Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) Piano Trio (1921) Rebecca Clarke is a household name for many professional violists. This is in part due to her 1919 viola sonata, which became hugely popular after Clarke won the composition contest at the prestigious Berkshire Music Festival. For the record, the selection committee had speculated the sonata had been written by Ravel, and were stunned to learn it had been written by a woman. As you might imagine, professional prospects for musical women were not great in early-20th century Britain. By 1913, Clarke had made a name for herself as a performer and composer, being closely tied to influential friends like Ralph Vaughan Williams and Sir Henry Wood. However, due to societal conventions, she was supported financially by her father, who disowned her after she criticized his many affairs. Needing to support herself independently, she turned to her friends in the classical community. Wood gave her a position as a professional violist in his Queen’s Hall Orchestra, and she became the first woman to play viola professionally in a British orchestra.
Lorenzo da Firenze (d. 1373) Dà, dà, a chi avaregia The Italian composer and teacher, Lorenzo da Firenze, was born in Florence during the first half of the 14th century. He was a member of an incredibly active generation of poets, painters, artists, and musicians, all of whom thrived on the creative energy generated by the ideals of humanism. Writers such as Petrarch and Boccaccio mixed regularly with composers, who, inspired by their unconventional approach to poetry, began to experiment with new musical forms. “Dà, dà, a chi avaregia” is a madrigal for two voices. The text warns of the dangers faced by the man who hoards his money. “If the times play a dirty trick on him,” warns the end of the first section, “he will find out that you can’t have friends without a full purse.”
Eric Stewart, Graham Gouldman (1975) Art for Art's Sake The British rock group 10cc originally consisted of the combined efforts of two songwriting teams. Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman wrote predominantly pop-influenced songs, while the other half Kevin Godley and Lol Creme tended towards experimental art music. The band released five consecutive charting albums from 1972 to 1978, with Art for Art’s Sake appearing on their fourth album How Dare You! From 1976. The phrase “art for art’s sake, money for god’s sake” is attributed to Graham’s father Hymie, who had a wry sense of humor. The song is a cynical commentary on the music industry, which the band was becoming increasingly jaded with as their career developed. Though 10cc was widely popular in the UK, only two singles managed to chart in the US.