Ever wonder how the greatest composers made a living? Well, sometimes getting paid for what would become some of the world’s most cherished classical music was a bit convoluted.
Wishing not only to pay the bills but also to make a splash in his new home of Vienna, in 1782 Mozart offered for sale by subscription manuscript copies of the first three piano concertos (K. 413-415) he composed in Vienna.
In a letter of Dec. 28, 1782 to his father, Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang Mozart described these concertos as “a happy medium between what is too easy and too difficult; they are very brilliant, pleasing to the ear, natural, without being vapid.” (The Letters of Mozart and His Family, trans. Emily Anderson). A few days later, on Jan. 4, Mozart wrote his father that the subscription price for the three concertos was four ducats – about US $1,500 in today’s currency.
But that didn’t world out as well as Mozart’s father had intended.
Evidently Leopold didn’t think the subscription was such a good deal. On Jan. 22, Mozart wrote his father again saying, “You need have no fear that the three concertos are too dear. I think after all that I deserve a ducat for each concerto – and besides – I should like to know who could get them copied for a ducat!”
And that was just the beginning of the saga of the concerti.