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BBC Proms open with clapping between movements

July 15, 2018 by norman lebrecht

87 comments.


From one of our readers:

Mindless applause – it’s started already! Yesterday, after each movement of The Planets until ‘Saturn’, at the end of which Sakari Oramo managed to get silence. Anyone clapping after ‘Mars’ would realize that only a few people were doing it and that it probably wasn’t supposed to be happening – so why did they do it again (and similarly unconvincingly) after ‘Neptune’, ‘Mercury’ and ‘Jupiter’?

Why do they do it anyway? It breaks the continuity (and the concentration of the performers), is bad manners and inconsiderate to other listeners, and in very few other countries does this extraordinary obsession with clapping take place.

The first reviews make no mention of the disruption.


Comments (87)

  1. mr oakmountain says:

    Actually, whenever I play “Jupiter” to young people (usually from a YouTube link to a former Proms concert), they always tell me it feels wrong to them, not to applaud at the end of that movement. I explain to them, why it might be good not to clap between individual movements of a larger structure, but sometimes it really seems wrong.

    For example, I’d prefer if people clapped after movement 3 of Tchaikovsky VI and remained silent after the last movement …

  2. Clare says:

    We show appreciation. Get over it. As a performer I DON’T mind. This is why people are scared are of ‘classical’ music.
    Being sniffy is not a sign of intellect!

    1. Sue says:

      People clap because they’re not used to attending concerts – just the same as people don’t talk during a tennis match at Wimbledon because they’re used to going there and understand the protocols. Don’t feel ashamed of protocols at classical concerts – that doesn’t make you an exploiting elitist of the patriarchy. It doesn’t mean you hate people of colour and LGBTIQ. You need to bring a certain nuance and understanding to your comments.

      1. Jerome Hoberman says:

        And the music connoisseurs who clapped between movements in Haydn’s and Beethoven’s time applauded then because they weren’t used to attending concerts? Wasn’t it Mahler — and, later and more famously, Toscanini — who instituted this concert-hall-as-temple “rule” that there be no applause between movements? (More pertinently, no applause until the conductor conducts it?) It’s interesting to me that it tends to be professional musicians (other than us conductors) who don’t mind applause (gee, I wonder why?) and non-musicians who are offended by it.

      2. Una says:

        In different countries there are different cultures of clapping, and therd are many who are from abroad there! You only have to go to the Met. Apart fom the endless coughing, you hear clapping all over the place, even before the final note has sounded. We in Britain, apart from ROH, are used operas being performed as if it were uninterrupted Shakespeare, not musical.theatre. Symphonies without interruption and song recitals not having every song clapped!

    2. Petros Linardos says:

      I don’t buy the argument about people being scared of classical music’s etiquette.

      I don’t see why anyone who loves music will mind, say, skipping clapping between movements. Those who attend concerts for social reasons might. Do you mind having fewer inidifferent socialites or politicians among your audience?

  3. Carl says:

    Nothing is more tiresome than people complaining about clapping between movements. Almost all of the most beloved composers in the classical music world would be shocked to hear the awkward, cough-filled, bizarrely enforced silence between movements that occurs today. Mozart rapturously recounted applause DURING a movement at a particular place to his father. Nastily staring, as unfortunately many musicians do, at an audience until they are cowed into going along with this ridiculous custom is a guaranteed way to make sure less people show up next time.

    1. Anson says:

      Sadly this is exactly right. My wife never had much of a musical background and decided to try to make a go of joining me at my beloved orchestra concerts. The first concert I took her to couldn’t have been more accessible — Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto. She was enthralled during the first movement and simply could not resist a few enthusiastic claps after the triumphant finish to the movement. Who could blame her? Quite a few people I suppose as she was not only shushed in the moment but approached at intermission with a lecture from some doddering fool. Hasn’t exactly made her anticipate subsequent concerts with much interest.

    2. Sue says:

      Mozart loved people applauding through his movements; those same people who got there in a horse and carriage, sat by candle-light and died in their 40s.

      1. David Harmsworth says:

        That’s a very big nonsequitur. One of the wonderful things about music is it’s timelessness. Maintaining silence is an arbitrary invention of the Romantic era. As a cellist, I’d much prefer a packed and rowdy audience and more ticket revenue than silence and empty chairs

        1. Sue says:

          Silence doesnt go with empty chairs. It is called “manners”. Foreign concept, I know.

  4. Thomasina says:

    Yes, I don’t like hearing the clapping between the mouvements, but I hate much more the clapping at the ballet while the dancers are performing (high jumps or turns, etc…).

  5. Gary says:

    It’s quite common to clap after Neptune. In fact there’s a long standing tradition.

  6. Stephen Maddock says:

    People clapping between movements is nearly always a sign that you’ve reached an audience who don’t go to concerts that often, if ever.

    Which is good. Relax.

    Besides, it’s a suite not a symphony. Holst didn’t expect it always to be performed complete.

    1. FS60103 says:

      It’s not, though, is it? Else why would they continue doing it after it’s clear no-one else is doing so? Why does it emerge so desultorily out of silence – surely the uninitiated would react spontaneously? And why do you never really hear it at other major concert venues – where statistically, a good proportion of any audience will also be first-timers?

      It’s just a little clique of self-regarding Prommers trying to show how different they are. Thankfully, they gradually gave up as last season wound on. Either that, or no newcomers were buying Proms tickets after mid-August, I suppose…

    2. Robert King says:

      The effect that Holst’s music can have on people who maybe wouldn’t normally attend concerts comes from a sleeve note (by Roger Temple) for a forthcoming CD release:

      “First performed at a private concert in London’s Queen’s Hall on September 29, 1918 … even at the rehearsals of the music it was clear that Holst’s score made an impact outside of what might have been termed the normal concert-going public, for the story goes that during the rehearsals the cleaning ladies of the Queen’s Hall dropped their brooms and other implements and danced in the aisles to ‘Jupiter’”.

      What a wonderful vision.

      1. Anson says:

        That’s really lovely. Thanks for sharing it.

  7. anon says:

    I was at a live recorded baroque opera concert, and the house manager came out and sternly warned us not to applaud (or cough or make noise or so much as breathe hard) after the arias.

    So we sat obediently stone silent.

    Somewhere into the second act, the exasperated conductor turned to the audience and chided us: “The singers and the orchestra worked very hard for this performance, if you don’t show appreciation for their hard work, then it is very difficult and despiriting for us musicians, so please show some reaction.”

    So we all relaxed and started clapping (especially after those fiendishly difficult baroque arias) and the singers smiled and bowed, and the conductor gave us a thumbs up.

    Sheesh. Make up your minds, musicians.

    1. Bruce says:

      Looks like the musicians knew what they wanted.

      Understandably the management would want total silence for the recording, in the interest of making their live recording sound like a… not-live recording? For me, part of the appeal of live recordings is the response of the audience to what has just happened.

      1. barry guerrero says:

        “part of the appeal of live recordings is the response of the audience to what has just happened”

        Yes, but does that have ANY meaning when you know what the outcome will be 100% of the time (they’re not going to record them boo-ing)?

        1. Una says:

          Yes, the hacking cough and crisps and, more recently, a crying baby!

          1. Sue says:

            You cannot attend Wimbledon under 5 yrs of age. Great rule.

    2. Petros Linardos says:

      To me this sounds like a bad handling of legitimate issues.

      I have a better story, from a 2010 Boston recital by the great Thomas Quasthoff. His program was quite “serioius” but he was quite chatty and lighthearted in between. After the intermission he had to sing Brahms “Vier Ernste Gesange”. Before starting, he made a heartfelt request to the audience to stay quiet – and it was not such a noisy audience to begin with. Everyone complied and we enjoyed a memorable performance of the Brahms cycle. That memory became even more important since this was my last time I heard him live.

  8. Ozan K. says:

    I rarely get distracted by audience reactions. Probably because my initiation to classical music began with italian opera, where the audience silence at the end of an aria is a bad sign. Movements of an orchestral piece, to my mind, are not too far off. Requiring total silence from an audience for at least an hour feels somewhat frigid to me.

    It has to be the ever growing side effect of preferring personal listening to live concerts. I believe there is even a remarkable difference between the times of loudspeakers and tiny earphones. With such isolation, any extra sound might make one’s hair stand on end, let alone applause.

    I think there is now an unfortunate gap between music making and the basic means of socialization.

  9. Philip says:

    There’s going to be ‘noise’ between movements anyway whether it’s coughing, shuffling or talking. Some people applaud. Don’t do it myself but not bothered about it if others do.

    1. David K. Nelson says:

      In common with some other comments earlier, I am always much more distracted and bothered and annoyed by the avalanche of nervous twitching, rustling, coughs, and shifting around that is generated by the audience’s shared notion that it really NEEDS to applaud and indeed is urged to do so by the music itself (first movements of most popular concertos, third movement of Tchaikovsky VI as noted above, second movement of Schumann 2) but knows it must not according to the (present day) “rules.” It is even weirder when the conductors attempt their pre-emptive strike by glaring or waving their arms madly to prevent the applause. That destroys the mood as much as anything. I guess they prefer the solid minute of coughing?

      In the case of the Pathetique I could make a case that applause after movement 3 serves a genuine and essential musical purpose consistent with the composer’s total message. That sensation of happy energy was a “false positive” indicia of genuine happiness. The last movement shows you how foolish you all were. Life has tricked you again.

      But it is when there is friction between the music itself and the rules that I am most bothered. The modern day enforced silence after the first movements of the Paganini Concerto #1, Khachaturian Violin or Piano Concertos, and the Tchaikovsky Violin and Piano Concerto No. 1 — showpieces all — is simply unnerving and bizarre. You can sense all those lips being bitten as the mantra “must … not … applaud … must … not … applaud” is silently chanted. To what end? Do composers write endings like that for no reason and motive?

      And yes, I think Holst composed an “applause trigger” ending or two in the Planets. But not in each movement, agreed on that point.

      Maybe the strangest case of all is Berlioz’s orchestration of Weber’s Invitation to the Dance. How can he not have realized that those wonderful final sighing cello moments would always be interrupted by applause at the final chord — BANG — of the dance itself? Bernstein had the inspired idea to introduce a huge decrescendo on that chord — which should have occurred to Berlioz himself as a practical performing musician. Other conductors just end the piece there and don’t play that wonderful ending. Somehow pianists manage to stifle applause there with just a bit of body English.

      I defer to the views of one L. v. Beethoven: “They didn’t encore the Fugue? That alone should have been repeated! Cattle! Asses!”

  10. mr oakmountain says:

    I checked the recording on the BBC website (see link below). At no point did the applause seem to break the spell of the silence after the music. The applause only set in when everyone started moving around in their seat and caughing – I actually preferred the applause to the caughing. What I really would have hated would have been people clapping and bravoing before the music has finished to reverb.
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/play/b0b94d97

    1. mr oakmountain says:

      PS: There was indeed no applause between Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. End applause only started after a heart-felt cough.
      PPS: Sorry about misspelling “coughing” earlier on. Non native …

      1. erich says:

        Far worse is the mindless, seemingly automatic ‘hooray’ shouts at the end of almost all concerts, whether the performances were good, bad or just indifferent.

        1. Sue says:

          They might as well be wearing a T-shirt inscribed, “New to this game; don’t know any better”. Instead I wear my Jordan Peterson T-Shirt, “Working my way through the lobster hierarchy one damn room at a time”.

    2. Peter says:

      I completely agree. I don’t clap between movements but am not especially bothered if people do. I think the applause here was fine.

      It is far more exasperating when people feel that they simply must clap the split second that the notes conclude (or even earlier) – whether it occurs between movements or at the end of a piece. I can only assume that such people are seeking egotistically to project to everyone around them that “I am so intelligent and knowledgeable and I know exactly when this piece concludes”.

      Again, I hasten to add that this is not what happened at this Proms performance. I find the incessant complaining about the mere fact of applause between movements to be tiresome.

      1. Saxon Broken says:

        I don’t mind if other people clap between movements and even sometimes join in if the movement was played particularly well. I really can’t see why anyone would much care.

        If I take someone to a concert who has never been, I normally suggest they just copy what everyone else in the audience does.

  11. Judith Bingham says:

    The strange (when you think about it) act of banging your hands together is designed specifically to break the atmosphere. There are plenty of times, e.g. when a performance is particularly amazing that the audience wants to kind of join in by clapping, -they’re speaking in effect – and then it is often irresistible. But the trouble is, it’s not just about performance. When a piece is in movements, the end of a movement often influences the start of the next movement, the silence inbetween is meaningful. To me as a composer, breaking the atmosphere can really ruin the effect of how the piece goes on. Mindless applause only really shows that the audience is not concentrating, and I think it seriously spoils the evening for many people.

    1. Anson says:

      I’ll grant you that there are plenty of times where it makes sense for aesthetic reasons not to have applause between movements, but in such cases I find that even novice audiences are pretty receptive to the conductor’s actions — e.g. if a conductor keeps his hands up after the end of an adagio and sort of glances around at the orchestra in anticipation, he can maintain silence. True, that may not work at the end of a rousing first movement to a virtuosic concerto, but that’s not the place where such silence would be necessary to the music.

      1. Felix Mendelssohn says:

        Ahem… are you saying that the first movement of my Violin Concerto is not “rousing”? Or are you saying that silence from the audience thereafter is unnecessary? Do you not know about the held note in the bassoons?

        1. Sue says:

          I thought you were dead!

        2. David K. Nelson says:

          Applause after the first movement of your wonderful Concerto, Felix, actually covers up musical notes being played – and too often continues well after it is quite clear to all that the music is continuing. Some soloists try to signal what is going on by turning their backs to the audience as the movement ends, or holding the palm of their hand out flat to the audience. But other soloists contribute to the problem by vigorously sawing along with the tutti and giving a grand “look at me!” flourish with their bow at the last big note — the anti-bassoon league at work.

          But you wrote that rousing ending and as a practical performing musician, you must have suspected what was going to happen at least some of the time.

          There also seems to be a modern trend for the soloist and sometimes the orchestra to retune after the second movement, rather than go immediately into the transition section before the third. I think Perlman started that trend but it is spreading. Your views, Felix?

          While we have your attention, however, Felix, you being dead and all, help me with this memory failure of mine: who was the violinist (Soviet if memory serves, but it rarely does any more) who introduced a cadenza into the third movement of your concerto? It came — well, only violinists would know what I am talking about here — it came right at the start of the last page of the solo part, just before the trill arpeggio. I think it also involved a modest bit of surgery on the orchestral tutti. It is just as jarring as the long cadenza Hellmesberger inserted into the Bach Double (recorded by Arnold Rose and his daughter Alma).

  12. Jeremy says:

    Again this vile elitist snobbery! Is it a surprise that people don’t feel welcome at ‘classical’ concerts ?

  13. Ellingtonia says:

    “Mindless applause only really shows that the audience is not concentrating, and I think it seriously spoils the evening for many people”……………first of all how do you know that it is mindless (you obviously have a degree in psychology!) and what arrogance to suggest that so called mindless applause “shows that the audience is not concentrating”. And we wonder why the audience for classical music is diminishing and that those who do go tend to be over 60 years of age.

    1. erich says:

      You are entitled to your opinion as I am to mine. It’s a matter of being able to tell the difference between a truly great performance and a mediocre one. If the artists get the same reaction no matter how good or poor the performance, it could also possibly lead to the danger of performing on autopilot. I don’t condone booing (except for opera directors) but ‘sitting on one’s hands’ or weak applause can make an artist reflect on whether he or she has really given of their best. Just cheering for the sake of it is simply laziness.

      1. barry guerrero says:

        For most people, who cares whether it was a “truly great performance” or not. What’s most important is the music itself. In order to KNOW if something was a truly great performance or not, you have to have at least some basis of comparison, do you not?

  14. Rob says:

    It was absolutely disgusting. Gustav Holst’s Planets Suite with claps.

    Perhaps there is a perception from certain quarters that it makes the experience “more inclusive” .

    Nevertheless it was a goodish performance of the piece.

    1. barry guerrero says:

      Perhaps there is a perception from certain quarters that it makes the experience “more inclusive” .

      No, there’s a perception that the audience liked what it heard. Sometimes a clap is just a clap, with or without The Planets.

      1. barry guerrero says:

        “Nevertheless it was a goodish performance”

        That’s a relief – a less than goodish performance would have been a travesty with all that clapping.

  15. Dave says:

    I really like the Turners at the National Gallery. Next time, I’ll express my appreciation with a spray can on the frames and the walls between them.

    1. barry guerrero says:

      Hardly a realistic comparison. However, I don’t people would get too upset if you clapped at the paintings, as long as you didn’t do it for a ridiculously long time.

  16. Monsoon says:

    So freaking what?

    A few months ago I went to see a regional orchestra, the Pensacola Symphony, that managed to book Gil Shaham for the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. The house erupted into applause after the first movement. People were giving standing ovations.

    To me that shows that people were connecting with music and having a great time. Isn’t that what we all want?

    And Shaham and the orchestra all had big smiles — they didn’t seem to mind.

    But I’m sure the self-appointed high-priests of concert etiquette would have been appalled at the commoners.

    The only time clapping bothers me is when people start immediately at the end of a piece that ends quietly. Obvious example is the Mahler 9.

  17. David A. Boxwell says:

    All audience members now are rude, uneducated, uncouth, naff, bored, distracted, tipsy, medicated, bronchial, inattentive, and noisy.

    Except me.

    1. barry guerrero says:

      All the more reason why I stay home with recordings and save the money.

      1. Michael Pinder says:

        Exactly so! I, too, am always disappointed when attending concerts. The acoustics and the audience noise are too distracting. Years of headphone listening to decent recordings have conditioned me to loathe the live concert. Many would say I am missing out, I know, but my ears remain unforgiving.

  18. MacroV says:

    I would hardly think The Plants performed at The Proms is the place to take a stand against between-movement applause. Several loud-and-fast movements, more relaxed summer atmosphere, big festival (the greatest of all), and, one hopes, plenty of newcomers.

    But whenever this issue comes up I try to emphasize thre things:

    – Every activity has norms of behavior – you don’t talk at the movies, or at a play. You stand for the national anthem at a sporting event (that’s largely an American thing). So this notion that the concert hall is an off-putting, elitist space is absurd.

    – If you don’t know the etiquette, just follow what others are doing; this is not the place where one needs to be the first mover;

    – Generally, I pay to listen to the performers, not the other members of the audience (this applies more to wrappers, hummers, etc. than to clappers). OTOH, one reason I go to the live performance is to share an experience with the other audience members.

    1. Nik says:

      The Plants wouldn’t be complete if there wasn’t applause between fuchsia and rhododendron.

      1. barry guerrero says:

        . . . sort of makes “The Plants” a bit watered down, don’t you think?

    2. barry guerrero says:

      Ladies and gentlemen, The Plants! (no clapping between songs).

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uqryx2F0YBw

  19. Rob says:

    The audience should have been sacked

    1. barry guerrero says:

      . . . and their money given back to them.

  20. SVM says:

    In my recitals, I improvise interludes between each piece, the result being that the audience has no opportunity to applaud at the wrong time. Perhaps such a solution is impractical for orchestral concerts, but I think the gaps between movements and pieces could often be shortened — in many cases, they seem needlessly long. Personally, I would advocate for running more movements and pieces attacca — two particularly memorable examples that spring to mind from outstanding performances I have heard:

    1. Ives /The Unanswered Question/ running attacca to Beethoven’s 4th Pianoforte Concerto (this was done by the LSO, with soloist Krystian Zimerman) — both works are, after all, in G major;

    2. For Tchaikovsky 6, run the last two movements attacca (cannot remember which orchestra did this, but it really worked — and anybody insensitive enough to instigate applause after this symphony should be banned from concerts for life).

    My view is that the audience must wait for the conductor and/or principal soloist(s) to stand (if seated) and turn around to acknowledge the audience before starting to applaud. If the conductor is still facing the orchestra, *wait*, and let the pregnant silence hold, even if you know the piece is over (those who try to show-off their knowledge of the piece by shouting “bravo/brava/bravi/brave” a millisecond after the last note are boorish cretins, not cultured connoisseurs).

    Now, in some other genres, intermediate applause may be appropriate — for example, after virtuosic arias in operas structured in set-numbers. But, if in any doubt, hold your peace (see earlier point about boorish cretins), and rediscover the magic of pregnant silences, whether long or short.

  21. Sharon says:

    The Kennedy administration tried to emphasize the arts as a way of competing with the Russians. John Kennedy confided that he did not know when to applaud because he did not know if the piece was over or just between movements.

    I have no real knowledge of music so I do not know either. I just follow the audience.

    1. barry guerrero says:

      Yes, it was a real race to see which would happen first: The U.S.S.R. Symphony to play the Shotakovich 4th on the moon, or the Boston Symphony to play the Ives 4th on the moon. Turns out, neither happened. The orchestras were too fearful of the baggage handlers.

    2. Malcolm Kottler says:

      As for John F. Kennedy and when to applaud at White House concerts:
      Jacqueline Kennedy’s social secretary Letitia Baldridge solved the problem of Kennedy’s uncertainty about when to applaud:

      On applauding:

      “The President had always had a little problem with classical music. He had been caught in the East Room on several occasions clapping at the wrong time and not being sure when the concert was finally over. Even following a program, the number of different movements within one composition confused him–as it does many people. We therefore worked out a code system for the Stern concert. As the last piece was almost finished, I was to open the central door of the East Room from the outside about two inches–enough for him to glimpse the prominent Baldridge nose structure in the crack. It worked beautifully that night and for all future concerts. When the President noticed the door slightly ajar, that meant the last piece was in progress. He would await the applause; then, clapping heartily, he would take Mrs. Kennedy by the arm, and escort the honored guests to the stage, to congratulate the musicians. Both Kennedys thought I was brilliantly sophisticated in music to be able to do this. What they did not know was that I knew less than they did about serious music. I simply made one of the Social Aides stay by me. He happened to be an accomplished musician who was familiar with all major classical compositions” (Baldridge, Diamonds and Diplomats, p. 194).

      Music at the White House: a History of the American Spirit, by Elise K. Kirk (1986, University Press, Chicago).

  22. Po-yu Sung says:

    That’s BBC proms. People clap more often in proms. Your reader probably is not a routine proms goer.

  23. PETER LONGSHAW says:

    Sir Roger, the champion of clapping as they did in the ‘old days’ was DELIGHTED with the very eclectically mixed audience at the wonderful Paris PHILHARMONIE: as they clapped after each movemnt of the Dvorak cello concerto and after the first music of Elgar 1 he looked up and beamed with a sotto voce ‘well done’. But I tend to feel that as he wants it is polite to join in and as most conductors don’t we should be cautious.

    1. PETER LONGSHAW says:

      first MOVEMENT I mean

  24. Adrian says:

    A charged silence between movements can feel more appreciative than an ovation, it being a thrilling way for an audience – on behalf of the performers – to respect and maintain a work’s dramatic tension.

  25. Graeme says:

    Applause after the 1st movt of the big showpiece concertos doesn’t matter so much. But nearly everywhere else it does nothing to add to the atmosphere, and more often detracts.
    Especially between III and IV and Tchaik 6; that should absolutely be attaca for the emotional dissonance the juxtaposition causes.
    And really at the end of that piece – and Mahler 6 too – the audience should just sit crushed by the experience. After 30 seconds or so, start the applause. Then the greatness of the performance can be measured by the length of the applause.
    Nowadays it seems a lot of folk clap in any gap there is (is the middle of the Barber adagio at risk yet? – Trout quintet went years ago), shout ‘bravo’ within a nanosecond of the last note starting, then start the rush to the exit for the train or car park within a minute.
    Decrying barbarism and philistine behaviour doesn’t have to equate to defending snobby elitism.
    Why should an etiquette that amounts to nothing more than considerate of others be thought fit for demolition?

    1. David Wickes says:

      I agree – it’s all a question of appropriateness. I’d hate ‘enforced’ applause as much as I’d hate a stilted silence. I believe the audience should be as live as the musicians.

  26. mr oakmountain says:

    My favourite applause moment: Simon Rattle doing Beethoven V with the VPO in the Musikvereinssaal.
    After the (really beautifully done!) second movement there is breathless silence. When the music has reverbed away, a completely mesmerised lady, forgetting herself, says very softy, “Schööööön …”. Everyone hears it. Soft giggles. Rattle turns around and says, also softly, and in a seemingly pleasently surprised voice, “Danke.”
    It did not feel wrong, because it was genuine.

    1. SVM says:

      Simon Rattle’s wont for tolerating bad audience behaviour is very unhelpful (see my reply to Eric further down the thread), and one reason I no longer attend concerts conducted by him.

  27. Violinist says:

    Haha you don’t want anyone to clap after Neptune? U R anus.

  28. James says:

    Do we really have to talk about this every year? Who cares.

  29. Eric says:

    I was there on Friday. A girl/young woman sat just in front of me was clearly loving The Planets and clapped enthusiastically after Mars. And then she looked completely bemused that hardly anyone else was. She then clapped again after Venus – and rightly so, it was beautifully played. A few others also joined her. By the time she clapped after Mercury, I felt so sorry for her that I (a seasoned concert-goer of 40 years, who apparently should know better) was joining in as well. It felt quite liberating, to be honest!

    1. SVM says:

      I do not think descending to the level of a novice is helpful. Better that he/she feels a bit confused/awkward/embarrassed the first time — that way, he/she is less likely to forget in future. Think about how we learned etiquette as children — we made mistakes, caused inordinate embarrassment to parents/guardians/&c., and learned the hard way how to behave properly in public. Naturally, it is better to avoid making *serious* mistakes (especially in life-or-death matters, such as driving), and that is where reminders, guidance, and rules are useful (e.g.: switch off your mobile telephone before the concert begins, and check it is still off at the end of the interval).

  30. barry guerrero says:

    Clappers of the world unite! It’s our own left wing conspiracy, as we, WE, have the means for producing the claps. Only the white, bigoted, elitist, Euro-centric right wingers oppose this liberation of the masses. We must stand our ground in the opera houses and symphony halls of the world (including all three in the U.S.).

    Since I listen at home these days, I’m going to clap between movements all around the house. You right wing oligarchs can’t stop me.

  31. David Wickes says:

    Lebrecht makes us well aware of his opinion – ‘disruption’ indeed! Appreciation to my view.

    Why the hell not clap if it’s good? Why not whoop and holler, whistle and scream that this music is fantastic and that the performers are amazing.

    Saw the LPO do Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, mass applause after the first movement. Just a riot of love – because it deserved it. It’s live music, and you’re living it with other people in the same room. If you want perfect silence, with no coughing and clapping and the inconvenience of other people – stay home with your headphones on and listen to a dead studio recording.

    1. SVM says:

      Because we want to hear music live, and we believe that maintaining near-perfect silence as an audience-member is an eminently feasible and reasonable demand to make.

      1. David Wickes says:

        Who are you speaking on the behalf of? The silent majority, perhaps… ?

        I make no bones about it being ‘feasible’ to be silent. And it’s perfectly reasonable to be silent for most of a concert. Nobody is proposing popcorn, mobile phones and a chat about the holes in the first violin’s socks during the music. Just that it might be OK, on occasion, to applaud between movements of a piece. Not every piece, not all the time. And I’d probably veer on the side of caution – I’d hate for every pause to have applause – forced clapping would be just as empty an injunction as never applauding.

  32. Victor Trahan says:

    The jury will always be out on this one. I firmly believe that classical concert goers need to be educated. Perhaps signs should be put up or warnings broadcasted before each performance : ”The symphony you’re about to hear is in 4 movements. It lasts 40 minutes. Please refrain from applauding after each movement.”
    Operas and rock concerts are a different phenomenon. There are rules in court houses, tennis matches. People attending concerts forget they’re not at home eating popcorn and commenting out loud. I distinctly remember seeing the dismay in Jessye Norman’s face after a rapturous interpretation of Mahler or Strauss that was spoiled by immediate applause after the very last note. These are things that artists and audience members must learn to live with. People will be people. Live concerts have their drawbacks.

  33. Ben G. says:

    One of Mahler’s many apts. was situated over a zoo. A friend once asked him if the daily roar of a lion was upsetting to him.

    He replied that he preferred the sound of a beast, to the annoying sound of applause between the movements of any musical work

    1. John Borstlap says:

      It seems that at recitals by Busoni he brought his big newfoundland dog with him, which would sit on the stage attentively and bark approvingly and loudly after each movement of a work.

      Vladimir de Pachmann, another famous pianist of that era, would add a running commentary during his playing, shouting to the audience occasionally when they reacted to both his playing and his commentaries.

      But in the 19th century disruption was rampant. Even Wagner could not quite silence audience noise, and once at a performance of Parsifal he shouted himself ‘Bravo!’ just when the flower maiden scene roudned-off, to be sushed violently by the other listeners who, in the darkness of Bayreuth, had not seen it was the composer himself.

      In other words, the long tradition of concert disruption has only fizzled-out quite recently and the sacred silence is quite new. I think the silence during the playing is an improvement on human discipline. The more silent an audience is during the piece, the better the bottled-up emotions can be ventilated in the clattering of appreciation.

  34. Ben says:

    Just to rebel without a cause, I will start clapping between movements when I am listing to CDs at my home or at music stores nearby.

    1. John Borstlap says:

      Good practice, I do that as well, to be in the best form when attending a live concert. There are various ways of producing sounds with clapping, from a tame mezzo piano to fortissimo shots and one has to keep training if one does not want to loose one’s condition.

  35. Ben says:

    I’d prefer clapping over disease-spreading coughing fest. You could cough like no tomorrow — and you’d appreciate nobody knows you’re coughing since the clapping sound would cover it up.

    Clapping would help waking sleepy people up too.

    What I hate most is the coughing fest between movements … some just sound like food choking. Disgusting.

    I feel some people just take this so seriously to a point of being snobbish: “Hey I know this piece … that’s not the end of the piece, dumb arse!”. While some can’t wait to clap at a piece’s end immediately (“Hey, I know this is the coda, while you don’t!”)

  36. alejandro says:

    Now in the seventh symphony of Shostakovich are also applauding

  37. John Borstlap says:

    My fly on the wall informed me that these were members of the British Astronomical Society.

  38. Simon says:

    What better illustration of why applause or acclamation between movements should not be generally allowed than that intrusive shout at the end of the first movement of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto in Prom 15? But at the same time I have been to Roger Norrington conducted concerts where he turns smiling at the audience to invite them to applaud a particularly well-played movement. I think the audience should take their cue from the conductor.


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