The story of the artist, actor, composer or musician who constantly is strapped for cash, despite enjoying a successful career is a sadly common one, with many incarnations. Three centuries ago, things looked different, as most composers did not reach fame and were not able to reap the harvest of their labour within their lifetimes. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is perhaps the best known composer of his time (if not of all times) and the story of his life has famously been shown on the big screen in Milos Forman’s 1984 classic Amadeus. The film centres around the rivalry between Mozart and Salieri in 18th century Vienna, which has little historical foundation and Mozart’s financial habits were more complex than the film’s portrayal of a journey from riches to rags. Still, Mozart’s life offers several lessons for HNWIs and others.
Living within one’s means
The first is without doubt the importance of living within one’s means. Unlike many of his contemporary composer colleagues, Mozart was able to make a living from composing, performing and teaching during most of his adult life. Whereas most successful composers would have a permanent position with senior clergy or aristocracy, Mozart was what we today would call freelancing but still earned between 3,000 and 4,000 florins per year. As a comparison, a labourer earned approximately 25 florins annually, and many belonging to the wealthier part of society did not see more than 500 florins in a year.
Mozart’s – and his wife Constanze’s – problem was overspending as they attended and hosted their own lavish parties. Cutting back on social expenses and entertainment would probably not have been a good solution for the couple though, as it was at these parties that Mozart met prospective clients.
In the film, we see Mozart’s father, Leopold Mozart act as his son’s manager-cum-advisor. It is true that Mozart père did exercise a significant and maybe too significant level of control on his son’s artistic development and career during the early years. He did disapprove of Wolfgang’s high levels of spending too. Leopold’s death, which coincided with war, a financial downturn and a lower demand for music and entertainment, did force Mozart fils to borrow vast sums as he refused to adjust his lifestyle.
Still, Constanze Mozart managed to convince her husband to relocate to cheaper lodgings, and once commissions and requests began to come in again, the Mozarts began repaying their loans.
Saving and investing
When he died prematurely from illness at age 35 in 1791, Mozart did leave his wife in a dire financial position but he had been working until his final moments. He had however been a big spender and left no capital behind. Using her social connections well, Constanze was able to secure an income for her remaining years by publishing her late husband’s works and arranging concerts. Had Mozart’s compositions not remained popular, the story would most likely have ended even more tragically. As it were, Constanze could continue living in relative comfort, due to her husband’s musical genius and her own business acumen.
Had he lived today, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would without doubt have had a financial adviser and a separate manager for the professional side of his life. He might have entertained less or, if he did not, rented or owned a cheaper property and been encouraged by his advisor to save some of his income for a rainy day. Previous compositions would be generating a passive income, as would recordings. While Mozart himself may not have needed the services of a Multi-Family Office, chances are high that his widow and children would.
Overall, then, Mozart’s financial life was not as bleak a story as is portrayed in Amadeus but the general lessons and takeaway points remain the same.