Old School Style Patronage

A topic of fascination for me isn't so much the composers themselves, but how composers in general lived in various moments in life, as well as the culture that surrounded them. One time period that comes to mind is the classical period and how composers lived in the patronage system. This got me wondering, would any of us-- if given the chance-- would participate in the patronage system if given the chance?

Lets think of this in terms of a hypothetical:

(For this hypothetical I will be modeling a modern mock contract from a contract Haydn used with the Esterhazy Family. You can view that contract here

The family that wants to hire you as their personal composer/musician/music teacher are called the Smiths (I know very original lol)

The Salary is roughly $80,000 USD a year plus living quarters and transportation provided. This is a 3 year contract. You have access to one of the finest orchestras in the world and have almost unlimited resources at your disposal. This family and their orchestra are one of the most well known orchestra in the world and your fame is almost guaranteed.

The stipulations and conditions are as followed:

  1. You are considered staff, which means you enter the house from the staff entrance in the back and speak to the family as such. 
  2. You are in charge and the boss of 120 musicians. You take care of the hiring, firing, paychecks, and maintenance of the family orchestra and all that is involved with that. 
    1. If needed you are allowed to hire more musicians within reason. 
  3. You are also in charge of the musical education of the families six children. You must teach them either an instrument, how to sing, basic music, or composition (however you see fit). 
  4. A mandatory weekly concert will be held every Friday, however you must enter the master bedroom and enquire to see if the family wishes for a concert that day. If they say yes, you will be given a few hours to prepare the musicians for said concert. All music must be new. 
  5. You must also provide music for all family functions such as weddings, funerals, family reunions, Christmas, birthdays, etc.
  6. All music produced is property of the Smith family. No music shall be reproduced or composed for anyone else. All music can be used and/or sold by the Smith for their benefit. 
    1. All musical appearances outside family functions must be approved and must be of benefit to the Smith family. 80% of all monetary gains from said appearances must be given to the Smith family. The remaining 20% will be applied at the end of the year to you salary as a bonus. 
  7. You must live on the premises for the total of your contract. All vacation time must be approved by the head of household. 

I tried to mirror the condition that classical period composers would have had to deal with. Knowing this, would you enter into this contract?

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  • I think the worst part of signing such a contract would be the demand for coming up with new music all the time with no preparation time  or warning in advance. You would have to be very confident as a composer with a lot of tricks up your sleave to pull it off, without losing your face. I for one could not promise such speedy production with the quality of the work intact under such cercumstances.

    The other parts of the contract would perhaps be easier since the paycheck is so much larger than what I am getting paid today (at least the double) and the personal expences being so much lower than mine, giving me the chance to save money for the future. This would however only have worked out for me had I not been a family man with small children.


  • I think the hardest part for me ( besides the enormous pressure) would be the signing away of rights to my creations. That's a big one. On the other hand it presents opportunities to work with a fantastic orchestra that would probably not come any other way. It would be a hard decision for sure!

    I think the old time rock star contracts mimics this contract rather well. "You get access to a top notch studio, world tours and endless promotions - and we'll get your soul".
  • One can say that the modern recording contract is basically a new face of the Patronage system, except you get paid a lot more if you make it and you don't work for a single family but a company that will push you out to everyone as much as possible. 

  • They are probably equally hard to get too.
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