According to Maynard Solomon (my memory may be less than perfect on this, and any corrections would be more than welcome) about 400 people heard the three premiere performances of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto 24, in c minor (K. 491, 1786). The fame and reputation of the concerto and its composer has grown exponentially since that beginning. Of course, Mozart was, well, Mozart, and times are different, but I wonder if there isn’t an encouraging lesson to be found here.

Among these 400 there must have been other musicians of the professional or amateur variety. Musicians who talked about the piece, obtained a copy of the score, and learned it. More important, there must have been people in the audience who heard the piece and were struck or moved by it, and proceeded to talk about it with others, people who weren’t in the audience for the premiere.

Mozart’s time was a before mass markets and mass media, obviously. Just as obviously, our time is an age of mass media and related markets:

We live in a society that observes very much the mass reactions, and is all about markets, including in music. I think our responsibility is to work against that, to have a taste for adventure, to be courageous enough to go forward into the emptiness, to open new doors, and then be followed—or not—by our audiences. --Pierre-Laurent Aimard, quoted by Jeremy Eichler in the Boston Globe, 25 March 2007

I think Mozart’s experience and Aimard’s comments point us to a new approach, one that is rooted, in part, in the long tail theory and in compound interest. Concert music is a niche market, very small and diminishing, or slowly growing, depending on who you read and on their agenda. The new and emerging technologies of internet distribution and electronic “rendering” of scores in recordings that are very close to performance quality enables composers to find their 400. If they are like the audience Mozart had you may see interest in your work grow. It’s a long, agonizing process, but if you can get 400 people to “go forward into the emptiness” with you, it will be worth it in the long run.

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