Monday, October 12, 2015

Classical Clickbait: 7 Celebrity Masterpieces That Have Aged Horribly

"Behold, all flesh is as the grass" — musical flesh, too.
I keep seeing these ugly photos of unrecognizable famous people at the foot of some articles online.

Who is this woman? I think as I stare at her grotesque features. And it usually is a woman, with wrinkles like W.H. Auden,  swollen lips, discolored skin, strawlike or matted hair, eyes like cavernous dark pools. Sometimes all facial features are pulled back toward the ears as if under the impact of G forces.

Clicking on the lines underneath the photo, which run something like "17  Celebrities Who Aged Horribly" or "10 Celebrities Who Ruined Themselves With Plastic Surgery," doesn't tempt me. Whole galleries of horrors are promised. I pass them by; I find enough to revolt me nowadays in the political sphere.

Yet opening these galleries must interest a lot of people, or I wouldn't keep running across such creep-fests tied with other sideshow items, like cans to a dog's tail, to interesting articles.

But I am tempted to adopt the idea for something that interests me: classical music, and the unmistakable narrowing of the repertoire. There are favorites of concert presenters and (to the extent they exist anymore) classical record companies and radio stations that have aged horribly. Like the celebrities, maybe they have a few attractive features worth recalling, but they are now suffering from overexposure, hard living, and cosmetic tinkering.

It is only in the spirit of charity that I offer here my list of 7 Horribly Aged Celebrity Masterpieces. Photos do not represent music well, so I've included brief, frightening verbal descriptions of each decrepit work, a few of them prematurely worn out. These pieces, to paraphrase Rossini's quip about Wagner, have good senior moments but bad senior quarter-hours. Here, then, in the form of diagnostic summaries from weary caretakers, are musical spooks to herald the Halloween season.


1. Antonio Vivaldi, "The Four Seasons"

A climate-change denier, he's an inveterate watcher of the Weather Channel. He gets lost in the wonders of seasonal contrasts, and never stops buttonholing visitors to make sure they notice the barking dog, the weeping shepherd, the buzzing flies, the hunting dogs running the exhausted prey to ground. If you don't mark such details, he loses patience with you and goes back to discussing the weather in vague terms he's certain you'll understand.

2. Carl Orff, "Carmina Burana"

A Latin teacher bemoaning the fading of her specialty, she whiles away the time telling dirty jokes and praising the flowers she used to cultivate. Has a weakness for strong drink that must be watched. Persistent requests for particular foods, like roasted swan and tuna. The latter demand is accompanied by recurrent shouts that sound like "Go for tuna!" But no matter how much tuna we bring her, she's never satisfied. Like many alcoholics, she fancies herself a philosopher.

3. Peter Tchaikovsky, "1812 Overture"

A blustering American patriot, he ignores his roots in an ancient European conflict, despite a labored fondness for the Russian imperial hymn, which he bawls out at the slightest provocation. He's a terror in his wheelchair. Excessive sentimentality drives even the most well-intentioned of visitors away, particularly when it climaxes in startling episodes of untreatable flatulence.

4. G. F. Handel, "Messiah"

Another patient afflicted with a confused sense of his place in time. "I love Christmas!" he declares. "What's wrong with that?" So the Christmas season is where he implacably places himself, despite his fondness for biblical texts that have nothing to do with the Nativity. Sneakily anti-Semitic, he insists that all his scraps of scriptural wisdom convey just one message. That is summed up about two-thirds of the way through his repetitious monologue, when he insists any visitors immediately leap to their feet to show respect before settling into their seats again for his peroration. He bids farewell interminably.

5. Sergei Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor

Several facelifts resulted in a version of herself she could finally accept, her features somewhat flowing together in a manner that suits her glamorous self-image. She continues to dress immodestly and tends to overaccessorize. Vision is cloudy, but her hearing is sharp. An enthusiastic conversationalist, she doesn't mind interruptions, seeing them as confirmation of whatever she's just said. With somewhat dubious charm, she returns to her favorite themes and becomes depressed if visitors refrain from joining in.

6. Modest Mussorgsky/Maurice Ravel, "Pictures at an Exhibition"

Years ago he escaped withdrawn self-confinement to the piano bench and got out in the world. Flattered by the accouterments he acquired, he felt free to indulge his latent snobbery and cloying powers of observation while calling attention to his perky stroll, which he calls a promenade. His wandering must be closely observed, as it may signal the onset of dementia. That tentative diagnosis is reinforced by his incoherent nattering about a witch and her bizarre home architecture just before he has her fly into a large urban barrier he describes with tedious bombast.

7. Gustav Holst, "The Planets"

She angrily responds to mistaken assumptions that she's all about astronomy, when in fact she is fascinated with Roman mythology. She exhausts herself with demonstrations of how thoroughly she understands Mars and Jupiter, talking about them as if they were family and jabbing the floor with her cane for emphasis. Any visit with her deteriorates eventually into pathetic wordless drifting, an indication that it's time for her nap. You disturb her at your peril.