When did music royalties begin? I know most classical composers wrote commissioned pieces or were “on retainer” by some royal personage. But did they then receive royalties when their works were performed by others?
There wasn’t any music royalty system until ASCAP started one, and ASCAP was founded in 1914. Composers were paid for sheet music sales, but not for performances. It looks like they got the first payment agreement in 1919, and added additional agreements in the 1920s.
So any composor working prior to that would not see any royalties unless he managed to convince someone to pay him. The classical composers usually were paid for the commissioning of the work, and might have had something coming to them for the purchase of the score by an orchestra (once the concept of copyright was accepted). But once the score was purchased, the orchestra could perform the piece as much as they wanted, and the market for full scores was somewhat limited.
20th Century classical composers started getting royalties, of course.