Employee or Freelancer? Learning from Mozart

Written on February 27, 2018 by Santiago Iñiguez in Arts & Cultures & Societies

By Santiago Iñiguez de Onzoño, Executive President of IE University

Many careers can be run on a freelance basis. In fact, analysts predict that in the near future freelancers will represent a major segment of the labor force, over 20% by 2020 in the US.

At many business schools, like mine , we emphasize the many advantages of being an entrepreneur, and we encourage our graduates to embrace the freelance track. Being self-employed has many advantages: being your own master, the freedom to choose one’s business vision, independency and room for creativity.

It has also serious drawbacks, such as precariousness at the beginnings and limitless working hours, which extend far beyond the standard working schedule of employed people. The spheres of professional and family lives of freelancers are mixed and their borders blurry.

Traditionally, freelancing has been common in many liberal professions such as architecture, but it has also extended to other jobs where companies outsource major parts of their services, like journalism or independent consultancy.

The digitalization of the economy, along with the profusion of professional services platforms on the web, also bring many opportunities for would-be freelancers. This open trade of freelance services will grow on a global scale, although we are also in need of mechanisms that assess their quality and reliability, a common weakness of many platform based businesses.

When freelancers leave their independent status to become employees their returns often decrease. A good example of this is W.A. Mozart (1756-91), the great precocious Austrian musician, who worked basically as a freelance composer, as did many of his colleagues at the time, a fact that forced him to accept almost any order received from friends or strangers.

Mozart was once approached by Friedrich Wilhelm II, King of Prussia then, who offered him the position of conductor of the court’s orchestra, but he declined since he felt very close to Joseph II, the Emperor: “I enjoy living in Vienna, the Emperor loves me and I don’t care about money”, he is supposed to have told a friend.

Later, the Emperor heard about this and asked Mozart to become his Chamber Composer, although the retribution was not substantial -800 florins, roughly around US $ 10,000 of today. When he was asked about his wages at the court, he responded that they were “too much for what I do; too little for what I could do”.

A major risk of freelancers is that they must handle contracts, negotiations, accountancy and other management functions by themselves. Here, Mozart did not prove to be very skilled, according to his letters and to different biographies. He seemed to have always lived on the edge of his economic possibilities. However, his endless capacity for work –he even composed in the presence of friends and at social gatherings-, his music knowledge and experience, as well as his geniality allowed him to sustain his family decently.

He also had to pay the expensive health bills of his wife Constance at different spas during her recovery from illnesses, although he only left her his own wardrobe as inheritance when he died at the early age of 35 years. The illness causing his death being is still a matter of controversy, although biographers mention dropsy or rheumatic fever. Had he lived the same time as some of his contemporary musicians (e.g., Haydn: 77 years; Salieri: 75 years) he would have probably produced many more works, and maybe transformed the way we understand music today.

Freelancers need a strong support from their families to cope with their stressful way of living. I am sure that Constance was a dedicated wife, caring for his husband and extremely respectful of his work. However, she was subject to many attacks after the musician’s death. As Robbins Landon -a biographer of Mozart- refers, she was accused of of being superficial, incapable of understanding Mozart, of mismanaging the household finances and encouraging him to live a scatterbrained, if not dissolute life. This writer devotes the first chapter of the book here referred in vindicating Constance and rejects all these criticisms as spurious. They were probably the consequence of envious slander from Mozart’s detractors.

Indeed, Mozart also experienced the support of his family. As a tribute to the master, who has given us all so many moments of pleasure listening to his music, I enclose some of the lines that his wife Constance wrote on the day he passed away:

“I write now, in deep reverence, to you, Dearly beloved husband! Mozart, unforgettable to me and to the whole of Europe- (…) Eight years long we were joined in the most tender and in this world inseparable bond, O! Would I were soon joined to you forever.


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