The Musician as Entrepreneur and Opportunist, 1600–1900

Friday, June 1, 2001–Saturday, June 2, 2001
All Day

William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
2520 Cimarron Street

—a conference organized by William Weber, California State University, Long Beach

The musician played a special role in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as a cultural entrepreneur, indeed as an opportunist. Success in that profession came through social skills by which the musician identified and exploited opportunities to play music, put it on, or teach it. That could be done through a wide variety of individual or institutional patronage, often on an itinerant basis, and took factional or ideological meaning in some contexts. The entrepreneurism of musical life added a remarkable individualism and personal mobility to a society known chiefly as corporatist, and it established an important kind of petty capitalism.

From the late eighteenth century on musicians turned these skills to more large-scale and independent ends. Opportunist musicians shifted from finding positions in a few elite families to building new publics within concert life. Some attempted to alter the nature of authority in musical life whereby the composer became a self-defining architect of the whole nature of the music and its performance. But the musicians who did this began with and then transformed traditional practices of musical entrepreneurship from the old regime. Musicians found opportunities to give their art prominent new public roles thanks to their forebears’ tradition of self-aggrandizement.

The participants—musicologists and historians—considers the practices and the social assumptions through which musicians as individuals were able to take advantage of patrons, publics, and markets.