Eyebrows have been raised over recent reports that James Levine receives a salary of $1.6 from the Boston Symphony and $1.9 million from the Met, and that Lorin Maazel gets $2.6 million from the New York Philharmonic. Excessive or no, salaries on this scale are nothing new. Not long ago Cornell University Press published Gustav Mahler: Letters to His Wife, in Antony Beaumont's meticulous translation, and I found there a detail that I hadn't noticed in previous Mahler tomes: in March 1911, even as his health went in fatal decline, GM signed a new contract at the New York Philharmonic for ninety concerts at a fee of $90,000. I ran that through the inflation calculator and came up with the figure of $1.8 million in today's money. Not bad for a man who thought his time had not yet come.
Update: Kenneth Woods runs more figures and finds that Mahler was paid $20,000 per concert, as opposed to $58,000 for Maazel. "Mr. Maazel deserves everything he makes and more," he proposes, adding that Peyton Manning gets $1 million for every football game he plays. Indeed, classical music is very small potatoes compared to the remainder of the American military-industrial-cultural complex. By the way, the person in charge of the Philharmonic in 1911 was Mary R. Sheldon, the wife of the treasurer of the Republican National Committee.
Further update: According to Mahler biographer Henry-Louis de La Grange, the new edition of Mahler's letters contains a misprint: the figure should be $30,000, not $90,000.