Some Things Never Change

In November 1795, Beethoven and Sussmayer supplied the music for The Pension Society of Plastic and Graphic Artists’ Ball in Vienna. Sussmayer, being the more well-known of the pair, got air time in the large ballroom, while Beethoven was allocated another smaller space.

The arrangement was one with which all young musicians are familiar: play for free in exchange for exposure. The shrewd musician must weigh carefully the actual exposure available in a room full of chattering socialites intoxicated as much by the virtuousness of helping “poor people” as they are by their liberal imbibing of schnapps. Busking in the Underground seems a better bet.

In later years, Beethoven also provided music for and performed on behalf of Society for the Protection of Widows and Orphans of Musicians, as did Haydn, Eisenstadt cellist Joseph Weigl and several other colleagues.

The following is a letter of thanks from Salieri, Chair of the Society.

My dearest Beethoven!
The Society for the Protection of Widows and Orphans of musicians has the honour to pay its respects to you with the accompanying free ticket to all of its future concerts. You need only present it on each occasion and retain it for future use. Please pardon the fact that the Society, which sincerely cares for its widows and orphans, can show its gratitude in no way other than this for the services that you have already rendered: accept this as its goodwill and be so kind, in the future as in the past, to support the widow and orphans of the Society through your excellent talents.

Remaining eternally obliged to you,
Antonio Salieri

Translation: Thanks for playing for free. It warms our heart to find that you are not the sort of person that wants to see widows and children out on the street because you were selfish enough to request payment for services rendered. In exchange, we will give you this ticket for future concerts, although since we are counting on you participating in those as well, it is really about as valuable as a tissue. After all, you don’t need a ticket if you’re on stage.

Clearly Salieri’s talents were wasted on composing. Just think at what he could have done with a direct marketing campaign. you know, if there had been such a thing as regular postal service and the like.

UPDATE: Apparently there was such a thing as a regular postal service. Reality can be such a killjoy.

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