From a 1962 Time magazine profile of composer William Sydeman:
Son of a Manhattan stockbroker, Composer Sydeman studied piano halfheartedly as a child, went to Duke to study business administration but got so involved with writing a college musical that he chucked business in favor of study at Manhattan’s Mannes College of Music. There he decided to become a composer. The work, he admits, does not pay as well as business administration: $600 last year, including commissions.
Some older composers are better off—but not much. Veteran Henry Cowell, 64, the composer of 1,000 works, last week confided that “I could live on what I make from music, but not as I care to live—and so I am a professor.” Cowell’s 1961 take from his music: $5,500. He is reputedly one of the eight best-paid composers of serious music in the U.S.
Henry Cowell was one of the eight best-paid American concert composers in 1962? Really? Reputedly? What, this was common gossip fodder at the time?
BARFLY #1: Cowell? You expect me to believe that? Even Samuel Barber makes way more than that cluster-boy.
BARFLY #2: I’ve got a crisp new ten-dollar bill here says he’s in the top eight, buddy.
BARTENDER: Maybe you boys ought to take this outside.
Of course, composer salaries didn’t really take off until the Big Five abolished the reserve clause.