Mozart and Money

The Role of Money in the Life of Mozart

The 5000 Schilling banknote with the portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was legal tender in the Republic of Austria from 1988 to 2002

Source: Wikimedia
Posthumous portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart commissioned by the Austrian librettist Joseph Sonnleithner

Posthumous portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart commissioned by the Austrian librettist Joseph Sonnleithner

Oil painting by Barbara Krafft (1764–1825) 1819 (Society of the Friends of Music in Vienna) Source: Wikimedia

Money played an essential role in the life of Mozart. Even during his time as a child prodigy - Mozart’s father had given up his own position as a musician for some time to support the career of his son – Wolfgang had to contribute to the family budget. Unfortunately, musicians were not held in very high social esteem under Emperor Joseph II and hardly made ‘royal’ earnings.

Later in life, especially during Mozart’s time in Vienna, when Wolfgang Amadeus had to come up with his family's livelihood, money was a constant issue. Mozart hardly ever composed or played music ‘for the sheer joy of it’; he was constantly looking for well-paid commissions.

Luxury – and Abject Poverty

As with all freelance artists, Mozart’s income fluctuated. Times of overabundance and poverty both featured throughout Mozart’s entire life. When money was there, he spent it liberally. Constant moves and a luxurious lifestyle were extremely costly – but Mozart was more than capable of making money in Vienna.

But there were also times when the Mozart family had to endure abject poverty. Wolfgang Amadeus’ careless handling of money was not the only reason for this. Constanze Mozart suffered from ulcerated varicose veins at times and had to stay at health spas for extended periods. The horrendous costs took a heavy toll on the family budget. For years, Mozart was forced to ask his brother Mason Michael Buchberg for financial support. Several pleading letters still exist, very often with desperate content: “… should you, my best friend and brother, desert me, I shall be exceedingly unhappy and innocently doomed with my poor sick wife and child”.

Mozart was a hedonist who was incapable of saving for bad times. He spent money when he had it and suffered when he did not. However, Mozart’s life was not marked by poverty.