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A Salary Bass: A study of bassists' earnings in the Royal Swedish Opera, 1799 – 1980

Journal article
Authors Staffan Albinsson
Published in Scandinavian Economic History Review
Volume 64
Issue 1
Pages 19-35
ISSN 0358-5522
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Economy and Society, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE)
Pages 19-35
Language en
Keywords economic history, cultural economics, labour economics, musicology
Subject categories Economic History, Musicology


The number of occupations which have hardly altered at all, thus not suffering from Schumpeterian ‘creative destruction’, is very restricted. However, one such profession is the contrabassist’s. Classical music is still largely produced in the same way as when it was first performed. There is very little productivity change in the actual production of music from bygone times. This, too, is a phenomenon rare in society at large and in the economy in particular. In this study I test Baumol’s Cost Disease with the Swedish Hovkapellet bass players as my focus. The disease occurs when salary increases in jobs that have seen no increase of labour are accepted. Have musicians such as bass players seen a stagnating salary development compared to professions in industries which have actually seen labour productivity growth? This, together with other related issues, is discussed based on longitudinal salary data for the Hovkapellet musicians and similar data from Copenhagen and Paris. All data are primary data collected from the orchestra archives. The data indeed verify the Baumol Cost Disease hypothesis. The open question discussed is whether that is an actual problem or not.

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