Financing the Classics: Beethoven's Benefactor In the spirit of the gift-giving season, classical music commentator Miles Hoffman discusses the fine art of musical patronage. Composers from the renaissance to Beethoven to Copland have benefited from generous philanthropists.
NPR logo Financing the Classics: Beethoven's Benefactor

Financing the Classics: Beethoven's Benefactor

Audio will be available later today.


Okay, our regular music commentator Miles Hoffman has brought along some music to cut through the sounds of this holiday morning whether it's the crackling of wrapping paper or just the percolating of coffee.

Renee Montagne is going to take it from here.


And, Steve, on this Christmas morning, Miles wanted to talk about patronage - the kind of giving that over the years has nurtured and paid for much of the classical music we enjoy today.

So, Miles, who were the first patrons of the arts and they might not have thought of themselves as St. Nicolas, but they, in fact, turned out to be for the rest of us?

MILES HOFFMAN: Well, it's funny you should say St. Nicolas because the first and most important patron of the arts was the church, the Roman Catholic Church. They had people who wrote music for the church. They employed choirs. They hired musicians for centuries. The church was behind, you might say, the creation of Western classical music.

MONTAGNE: Of course, that covers quite a bit of musical ground…


MONTAGNE: …but do you want to pick something as an example for us?

HOFFMAN: Well, one of the great church composers who was employed in a variety of churches but most importantly at St. Peter's in Rome was Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, one of the most important Renaissance composers and one of the greatest church composers.

(Soundbite of song, "Alma Redemptoris Mater" or "Kindly Mother of the Redeemer")

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

HOFFMAN: That's "Alma Redemptoris Mater" by Palestrina or "Kindly Mother of the Redeemer."

MONTAGNE: Well, let's go to a realm of secular composition. At what point did patrons enter the picture, and when they did, who were they?

HOFFMAN: Well, it happened gradually. People in the secular realm were wealthy folks, and we're talking here about archdukes and arch earls and who knows what.

MONTAGNE: Who didn't know that was actually their titles.

HOFFMAN: Or that they were the duke overall(ph). These folks wanted music in their castles and their salons and they paid for it. They felt it was very important, in many cases simply because they love music, and so these wealthy folks started hiring composers to be in their service.

But if we go right to something like Beethoven, for example, Beethoven made money selling his music but he still depended on the patronage of wealthy noblemen. And one of the important noblemen who supported Beethoven, who paid for Beethoven to stay in Vienna and essentially granted him an annuity with disability insurance, was a fellow named Archduke Rudolph of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And Beethoven dedicated a number of very important works to Archduke Rudolph including the "Missa Solemnis," the "Fifth Piano Concertos," which is also known as the "Emperor Concerto," a couple of important piano sonatas and also a trio for piano, violin and cello which, to this day, is known as the "Archduke Trio."

(Soundbite of song, "Archduke Trio")

MONTAGNE: Let's talk about your instrument, the viola, Miles.

HOFFMAN: Do you really want to talk about the viola?

MONTAGNE: Yes, because…

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: …I bet you know the great patrons of the viola.

HOFFMAN: Well, there is one really terrific viola patronage story. It's a Paganini-Berlioz story. Nicolo Paganini, the greatest violinist of the 19th century, wanted Berlioz to write him a viola concerto. And he said he would pay him 20,000 francs to do it. Berlioz wrote the piece, which today is known as "Harold in Italy" for viola and orchestra, but when Paganini saw the score, it wasn't to his liking. He said that the viola part wasn't big enough and flashy enough for the viola. And so he didn't want to play it.

But then, he went to the first performance. Somebody else was playing it. He heard it, knelt in front of the orchestra, so the story goes, and said Berlioz is a genius, and he paid Berlioz 20,000 francs anyway. With these 20,000 franks, Berlioz paid off his debts. He was able to take time off from his work as a music critic, and he wrote his wonderful dramatic symphony "Romeo and Juliet."

(Soundbite of song, "Romeo and Juliet")

MONTAGNE: You know, Miles, patronage seems historical, kind of bit old-fashioned. Did it survived in its earlier form into the 20th century?

HOFFMAN: It really did, Renee. Patronage has continued all along. There have been wealthy patrons who have supported composers, supported musicians just because they thought that what they did was important.

Right here in Washington, D.C., we have the Coolidge Foundation in the Library of Congress. And Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who started that foundation, established it in the 1920s, is one of the great, great 20th-century patrons of the archs. The Coolidge Foundation commissioned works by Ravel, by Prokofiev, by Stravinksy, by Hindemith. And, in fact, the Coolidge Foundation commissioned one of the most famous works of the 20th century, Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring."

(Soundbite of song, "Appalachian Spring")

MONTAGNE: You know, Miles, you are the dean of the Petrie School of Music at Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. But you are also a violist with the American Chamber Players.

HOFFMAN: Mm-hmm.

MONTAGNE: Has, in that capacity, patronage touched your work and your music?

HOFFMAN: Very directly, but not just with the American Chamber Players, with Converse too. Converse is a private college. It depends on the generosity of trustees and donors. With the American Chamber Players, certainly all along from the very beginning, we have been helped out by very generous gifts.

One of the things that troubles me, Renee, is sometimes, in these days, those of us who are or trying to raise funds, we find ourselves having to justify the support and for ancillary reasons that if you support music and support the arts, it's good for business. I like to think that the most important thing is that we support the arts because the arts are important in and of themselves. You know, long after anybody remembers who the mayor of Bond was or Vienna when Beethoven was walking the streets of Vienna, we certainly remember Beethoven and remember his music.

MONTAGNE: Miles, as both the receiver and the giver of musical gifts, why don't we hear from the American Chamber Players?

HOFFMAN: This is a bit of a recording that, in fact, was made possible by a donation to the Library of Congress.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Miles Hoffman is classical music commentator for MORNING EDITION. And our gift to you: more music.

Visit to hear more from Copland, Beethoven and Palestrina.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. With Renee Montagne, I'm Steve Inskeep.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.