V.com weekend vote: Is it okay to applaud between movements at a classical concert?

July 24, 2021, 3:25 PM · Those old rules about clapping between movements might seem a little silly, after a year-long starvation diet of no classical music performances. We should be so lucky get a chance to clap our hands at a live performance at all!

applause clapping

Over the last week I've had the chance to see about a half-dozen live performances, at the Bravo! Vail Music Festival in Colorado. Did people clap between movements? Yes. And also, no. The clapping situation was just as awkward as ever.

Live music can be exciting, especially when the music is fast and loud and amazing, as it was for the New York Phil's concerts at the festival. People clapped after movements that felt especially excellent, or exciting.

Sometimes, when a movement concludes in an especially grand way, it can actually feels awkward and a little tense if people don't clap -- as if people are holding themselves back from their natural reaction.

On the other side of the coin: I also went last week to a smaller venue, the Vail Interfaith Chapel, for a chamber recital, played by the Viano String Quartet. It was a rather sophisticated audience, and you could tell - no one even considered the idea of clapping between movements. Everyone was on the same page, and it felt less awkward. In this case, that quiet time between movements felt reflective and appropriate. It was just right.

But does that really mean we need to keep the no-applause rule, for everything?

What are your thoughts on the matter? Should there be no applause between music? Or do we just need to change that rule and let people clap between movements? Or, do we need a more nuanced approach that allows the applause sometimes, but not always? Please choose the answer that most closely reflects your thoughts about the matter, and also share any ideas you have about handling the situation. Should there be announcements? Concert etiquette guidelines in program books? Something else? If you answered "sometimes," how will people know when it's okay and when it's not?

Replies

July 24, 2021 at 09:05 PM · At the premiere of Beethoven Symphony #7, audience applause after the famous slow second movement was so long and enthusiastic that the orchestra repeated it before continuing with the 3rd.

Ballet with a live orchestra was a shock for me. It is customary for the audience to applaud the solo dancers while the orchestra is still playing.

July 24, 2021 at 10:45 PM · I voted "Sometimes." There are some first movements of major concertos -- Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky -- that beg for applause. As long as it's at the end of the movement, and as long as the performers don't acknowledge any applause till the very end of the final movement, I don't mind a few exceptions like this.

By contract, the performances I've seen of the Mendelssohn e minor concerto have all been continuous, thanks to the way the composer connected the movements. No applause till the end of the work.

Opera is where I find applause most annoying. In my Chicago days, I had some series tickets and saw a good number of staged performances over a few years. When it comes to applause, some of Puccini's scores are especially problematic -- e.g., in Act I of La Bohème, , where audiences routinely applaud the back-to-back arias of lead tenor and lead soprano -- thereby breaking up what should be a continuous tissue of musical drama and reducing it to the level of voice recital.

Management had tried to combat this habit with "guidelines in program books" that you mentioned: "The audience is respectfully, but urgently, requested not to interrupt the music with applause." But, then, I have to wonder: How many attendees even bothered to read these guidelines -- or, if they did read them, how many chose to disregard them anyway?

The later Wagner works -- like Tristan and the Ring -- don't have this problem. Each act is a continuous musical fabric. You can't stop the show. Applause has to wait till the curtain falls at the end of the act.

July 24, 2021 at 11:25 PM · I voted that it's okay, and performers should be ready for it. But I don't do it. There are a few works where it's very off-putting, such as the Beethoven Op. 131 string quartet where there is a very lovely segue between two movements which would be totally destroyed by clapping, candy wrappers, coughing, and the like. But, I supposed if one wishes to really savor that musical moment, one can listen to a recording.

The guideline I'd like to see in program books is: Don't let children hold paper programs. They crinkle and fold them endlessly and it makes quite a racket in a small, intimate theater.

July 25, 2021 at 09:31 AM · Cosima Wagner had her husband remove the perfect cadences at the ends of acts of 'The Flying Dutchman' to prevent applause. I have also read somewhere that Schumann added later bridge passages to join up movements of his string quartets. It seems that composers (and their families) don't welcome unexpected applause.

I agree that opera audiences are some of the worst offenders, applauding over orchestral moments or even subsequent singers. That said, it can be amusing to see a singer expecting applause be greeted by silence: I recall an Escamillo getting this treatment, in a 'Carmen' where really the best thing was the decor. (Perhaps this is why American audiences applaud the scenery?)

Paul - full agreement that music of a certain depth, spirituality or intensity can lose its bond with the listeners through thoughtless applause.

July 25, 2021 at 10:16 AM · ...or was it bridge passages BETWEEN the quartets?

July 25, 2021 at 10:59 AM · I also went with "sometimes". The other year I saw someone, I think Nicola Benedetti, play the Tchaikovksy violin concerto at the Proms. I applauded enthusiastically at the end of the first movement, and so did about 20% of the audience - the man next to me asked why, and I pointed out that no-one who's just played THAT is ever going to be upset by being applauded.

But equally there are plenty of times when applauding between movements breaks the spell. Indeed, there are plenty of times when I would prefer people not to applaud so quickly at the end of pieces, either, when there is a solemn, sad or simply powerful ending.

This is particularly true at the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall where there is a very big distance both physically and emotionally between the people clustered standing at the front of the arena and those sitting further away. I've found that the applause in these situations usually starts at the back, within a second or two, but it takes ten or even twenty seconds for the people at the front to join in.

July 25, 2021 at 01:46 PM · "I would prefer people not to applaud so quickly at the end of pieces, either, when there is a solemn, sad or simply powerful ending."

I was just thinking that a reasonable rule of thumb might be that it is acceptable to applaud when the conductor is facing but not addressing the audience or has executed some obvious gesture such as waving the orchestra up to their feet.

July 25, 2021 at 03:09 PM · If I like what I just heard, I am going to appluad. I am not disrupting the musicians so show them their efforts are pleasing.

July 25, 2021 at 03:12 PM · Richard, Wikipedia tells us that "Wagner originally wrote the work to be performed without intermission". From what you tell us, it would appear that Wagner only removed intermissions some years after the opera was published. If that is true, could you please edit Wikipedia accordingly?

July 25, 2021 at 04:18 PM · I'm always thinking about the first-time concert goer, or those who aren't as music savvy. I remember clearly the feeling I had when I attended my first concert: I was overwhelmed with emotion. When the first movement ended, I broke out in applause, and then quickly realized I was the only one. I had no idea what the protocol was, and I just felt ashamed. We all want to help create music and concert appreciators, and part of making that happen to to somehow either communicate the concert etiquette prior to the performance, or just embrace and celebrate those who express their appreciation and emotions between movements.

July 25, 2021 at 07:36 PM · I attended a concert with a “talk back session” in which the conductor (Marin Alsop), the composer (Jennifer Higdon) of one of the pieces, and a soloist (Hilary Hahn) answered questions from the audience. Someone asked how they felt about audience applause between movements of a piece. All three said they loved it.

I recently heard a live streamed concert by Joshua Bell in which he played several pieces back to back with no speaking between them. The second one, a jazz piece by Ravel for violin and piano, featured an absolutely stunning jazz performance by Bell. The audience gave a long applause with a standing ovation immediately after the piece ended and before the next piece began.

July 25, 2021 at 09:25 PM · Sometimes. It depends on the piece and the setting. It's worth noting that the convention of holding applause between movements only really took hold when the recording industry demanded it in the early 20th century, so I don't put too much stock in "tradition." But there are certainly pieces where applauding between movements just doesn't seem right.

Re: Michelle's comment, I think we need to put some thought into how we communicate concert etiquette to new concertgoers. I've also had the experience of being glared at for applauding between movements, and I would have appreciated being told in advance. However, I really dislike the recorded announcement at my orchestra's concerts asking the audience not to applaud between movements, because I feel it sounds a bit patronizing. Maybe it's just the wording: the extra bit that goes something like "If you are not sure, wait for someone else to start the applause" makes me especially uncomfortable.

July 26, 2021 at 01:37 AM · I never understood this rule of waiting until the end. It's all a little too controlling for my taste. I've sat in orchestral and chamber music audiences and when a movement ends, I always had an uneasy feeling about those moments. Will people show how "unsophisticated" they are by having the nerve to show spontaneous appreciation of the music and clap? To actually act like people who are there in the room and responding positively to the performance? OMG! Or, will they sit there, like clearly cultured individuals who know the "rules" and wait? Well, la-de-da. What a bunch of nonsense. If you like it, clap. If not, don't. Life is a little too short to worry about such tripe. Live in the moment, and actually live in the music!

July 27, 2021 at 08:29 PM · I voted "sometimes", although I'm one of those traditionalists who generally remains silent until the entire piece is done. But I now realize there can be exceptions. One of the best concerts I ever attended was Jon Kimura Parker playing Prokofiev's piano concerto no. 3. He ended the first movement with such a flourish that a couple of ladies sitting next to me couldn't contain themselves, and burst into spontaneous applause. I think that's the key: remain silent if you can (especially if applause could ruin a segue, as others have pointed out) - but if you just can't help yourself, show the love.

July 28, 2021 at 12:05 PM · I voted yes because it avoids the whole smug I-know-better-than-you feeling that ensues when someone 'makes the mistake'.

To me it really depends on what was normal at the time the piece was composed. If Haydn enjoyed claps and encores during his performances why should we not do so now? If the composer would not have applause it should be written in the program so that a new or young concert goer would have a clue and not be made to look stupid or uncouth.

July 28, 2021 at 12:35 PM · I don't consider it smug or controlling to hold applause until the full piece has been played...and even then, until after some moments of silent reflection. I'm quite surprised at how many people here don't agree, and I really mean it about being surprised. As a teenager when I first discovered classical music, at my first symphony I quickly learned the etiquette but didn't yet understand it. But as I became a serious listener, it quickly became natural to let the music have its full space in sound and time, for better absorbing it and contemplating the piece. I have become a very active listener, and with really good music that takes one into a different mental state that takes a little time to enter and exit, like meditation or a dream. Just like the transition from dreaming to wakefulness, I dislike the shock of sudden noise and lights.

July 29, 2021 at 03:22 AM · Perhaps you should re-read what I said Will. You have totally changed it.

July 29, 2021 at 06:11 PM · "I am not disrupting the musicians so show them their efforts are pleasing."

If the first movement says "attacca" at the end, and if the musicians are poised to play the first note of the next movement, bows on strings and reeds in mouths, then yes, you are, especially if 1000 other people join you and it becomes an opportunity for still others to blow their noses, unwrap candies, doff their sweaters, and so forth.

OF course seasoned professional performers will accommodate. But, it is still a disruption. But as I said earlier, too, there aren't that many pieces where it would be a big problem.

July 30, 2021 at 05:36 PM · In a performance of Vivaldi's Gloria, the audience, or some of it, applauded each solo, despite the conductor's raised hand.

In the repeat concert in a more "bourgeois" town (...) ther were no interuptions.

Who was it said "the silence "after Mozart is still Mozart"?

July 31, 2021 at 04:00 AM · Perhaps you should re-read what I said Elise. You have totally missed it.

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