Just to recapitulate the history a bit, artists of all kinds up to the late 18th/early 19th century were a service industry. They provided splendour and gilding to the nobility and the church. There were exceptions, of course, such as Carlo Gesualdo who was himself a member of the nobility, but this is generally true. When we get to the late 18th century composers like Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven chart a fundamental shift. Haydn was a servant, though a highly-prized one who, by the end of his life was the most famous musician in Europe. Mozart was perhaps the first composer to make a living without taking a position in a noble household. And Beethoven transcended the "servant" category entirely and created a new identity for musicians: as revealers of transcendent truth. This shaped the whole social role of musicians in the 19th century when music became revered as the highest artform.
In the 20th century music fractured into a number of competing categories: "classical" music, now more or less a museum of great works of the past, "contemporary" music, an ideological category asserting music as a higher truth and not to be crafted to suit popular taste, "popular" music which grew and grew in importance until now it is nearly the only category of music of any social importance, "folk" music, which is now whatever is left over after pop musicians have looted it for ideas (bluegrass, traditional blues, "old-time" music) and finally, "world" music, which is whatever artists in the rest of the world manage to catch the attention of audiences in the developed world.
It seems that what has happened is that the most popular popular musicians have come to be members of a new noble class: celebrities (Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, etc.). A very few contemporary composers and musical scholars have managed to hammer out a small niche in academia. The rest of musicians seem to be reverting to the servant category as they play more and more weddings, funerals and bar mitzvas and fewer and fewer serious recitals.
My encounter with music was always rather at odds with the overall trends. First of all, I came from a very low and beaten-down social class: Canadian prairie farmers. Think of them as being like Appalachian hillbillies without the glamour! Even the discovery of pop music was something of a step up and when I stumbled across classical music in my late teens, it seemed a portal to the great world of history and aesthetics. That was a life-changer. All the usual kinds of careers, like banking, medicine, the law, teaching, seemed like so much cold porridge compared to the sheer, stunning aesthetic power of Beethoven, Bach and Stravinsky. Right?
Of course, to have these kinds of reactions you pretty much have to be oblivious to the lure of money and prosperity. But so I was. I spent most of my career actively avoiding monetary success because it seemed, frankly, beside the point. Would anyone with a brain sit down and rank classical composers by how much money they made? Rossini would be number one and Schubert dead last. Does that seem right?
So from that angle, the reason I retired from being a performer was that I could not get my career to the point where I did not have to accept demeaning engagements. So I preferred to not perform. Nowadays I think of myself as a composer and the only recent performances have been of my own music. But as a composer, I have no real professional standing. This is as much a plus as anything. If I were a university composer I would be part of the academic scene that I have a lot of problems with. If I were an established composer of some kind then I suppose I would have to be chasing after insulting commissions like the one the Canadian government is offering to compose a two-minute fanfare in celebration of Canada's 150th anniversary. Thanks, but no thanks. So instead of low social status as a composer I can enjoy no social status, neither high now low. Somehow I prefer that.
I'm sure that some of my readers will have some comments to offer, so go to it!
Here is something to listen to while you are commenting: this is the Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, op. 13 by Beethoven, nicknamed the "Pathétique" played by Krystian Zimerman: