Curious to see how the old whore (103 this year) is faring, I tuned in eagerly to Radio Three’s broadcast of a concert performance of Salome (13 February) — the live event already reviewed appreciatively here by my opera colleague.
Utterly besotted in early teens with this ultimate product of French/Anglo–Irish/Bavarian decadence, I have over the decades ‘put away’ pubescent thrills, not out of puritanism so much as in pursuit of more solid joys and lasting pleasures. The glamour wears thin, the precious transmutes to base; and the shock value sharply diminishes. The erotic attraction/repulsion, the provocative striptease, the necrophiliac climax, all sumptuously served up with pomegranates and sequins, no longer have the primal allure they exerted in 1905, or when one was 14. The shock nowadays (pace the jejune remarks in the prebroadcast introduction) is the cheap vulgarity of music that purports to deal with such flammable subject matter; till one perceives that this too, as treated thus, is just as cheap and vulgar, making a perfect match.
True of much — indeed, most — of the music, fiction and poetry, painting so supercharged to the teenager, this sad, inevitable journey into indifference, boredom, dislike, even detestation. Will one ever again rise to The Planets, Belshazzar’s Feast, Turangalîla — works of once-ravishing overkill that now induce little more than a groan? D.H. Lawrence, Edvard Munch, Gustav Klimt, Gustav Mahler! To value and enjoy such work after one has ‘become a man’ is to reject dross, rant, bombast, excess, spiritual showmanship and conspicuous waste, to locate and concentrate what remains living, intrinsic, essential — Lawrence’s stories, Mahler’s songs, the oases of authentic genius amid the slag of the full-length novels and symphonies. Chez Klimt and Munch I fear that nothing survives beyond a scattering of mosaic across a bilious neurotic cloudscape.