V.com weekend vote: Should an audience be asked not to applaud between movements?

September 17, 2023, 10:30 AM · One of those constant issues that comes up in classical concerts is whether or not an audience should applaud in between movements.

clapping applause

People "in the know" understand that traditionally, you aren't really supposed to applaud in between movements of a symphony, sonata or other multi-movement piece. But we want to be welcoming, so it has become more acceptable to applaud between movements. And, historically, there is evidence that people back in the day behaved a little less formally, talking and applauding between movements.

After all, applause is a show of a approval, why would we want to curtail that?

I'd been feeling like it was just something to accept - most concerts I attend in Los Angeles have robust applause in between movements. I was even beginning to feel like some kind of meanie if I was the only person not applauding.

But last week I attended an excellent chamber concert by Camarata Pacifica, featuring the violinist Paul Huang, among others. The friendly Artistic Director, Adrian Spence, greeted everyone from the stage at the beginning of the concert, welcoming any newcomers and assuring them that they should just wait for the people around them, when it came to knowing when to applaud.

Then everyone applauded between all the movements of a four-movement trio!

After this, Spence came out again, and started, "About the applause...." I've never heard anyone say it in a more inviting and friendly way: he explained that, actually, when something is a multi-movement piece, we treat it as a set, holding the applause until the end, when we can just let it rip. That way, the silence in between helps everyone feel the contrast between one movement and the next. And the besides, he added with kind of a wink, if we keep applauding between movements, we'll be here all night and won't get out before the bars close!

It was a perfectly delightful way to get the message across, and it worked. During the remainder of the concert, no one applauded between movements, and they applauded with enthusiasm at the end. Also, the silence was actually really nice, and so was the feeling that everyone knew how to handle this applause business - we were all in the know, creating this nice silence together. It almost felt like the silence was the audience's contribution to the concert.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed a concert with the silence between the movements, and also how I enjoyed the idea that everyone in the audience was on the same page about making it happen. It made me wonder, should audiences be explicitly asked for silence in between movements?

Of course, at least in some communities, it might be necessary to ask every single concert. And there is not always a friendly person greeting the audience before every concert - although maybe there should be!

What are your thoughts about explicitly asking the audience not to applaud between movements? And also, how do you feel in general about applause between movements? Is it okay? Is it even good? Or does it interfere with the experience of the music? Can you remember times when it's been particularly annoying, or particularly acceptable?

Please participate in the vote, and share your thoughts in the comments.

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September 17, 2023 at 04:18 PM · Some people say that applauding in between movements was a normal practice during the Classical and Romantic eras. That some members of the audience would jump from their seats to ask for a repeat of a certain movement. These would be welcomed by the composers as a sign of approval.

There is a recent recording where the audience couldn't resist HH's virtuosity and start applauding after the 1st movement of Tschaikovsky VC.


September 17, 2023 at 05:30 PM · I am always split on this question. I don't like applause between movements. It interrupts the connections between movements in a well composed work. But those who do clap mean no harm. It seems awfully snobbish to me to admonish them (the guy you mention appears to be a genius in the art of not being a snob; most of us aren't such geniuses). And in my experience applause between movements is quite rare; most audiences know how it works and I am willing to tolerate applause when it occasionally happens. Maybe we should rather celebrate that people enjoy classical music who are not familiar with it.

September 17, 2023 at 05:44 PM · I tend to agree with Albrecht. For me, it may also depend how the audience feel. They may or may not feel like reacting between the movements. I hope they won't applaud just because they think they "should", rather because they're motivated by the effect of the music they've been hearing/feeling.

September 17, 2023 at 06:02 PM · I went to a fantastic performance by the Pacific Chamber Orchestra last night, of all 6 Brandenburg concerti. The harpsichordist was a guest, Yuko Tanaka. After her cadenza in Concerto No. 5, some people applauded. Obviously there were people in the audience who weren't used to classical concerts so I couldn't get mad at them--after all, some of those may be converted to future concert goers. But I like the idea of the conductor warning people that a consequence is that the concert gets stretched out. This one ended at 10pm as it was.

September 17, 2023 at 06:15 PM · Rules, rules, rules, gotta have more rules, rules, rules...

For those of us who are "In The Know" we don't tend to applaud in between movements because we know the pieces well enough to "know" it isn't over -- YET. We are polite and wait to applaud (showing off our superior knowledge and behavior).

Popular music concerts are a whole different animal. Applause and cheers don't wait for the musicians to stop.

We wonder why people claim to "Hate" classical music. When I've asked people why they hate classical music - the answer is always rule related.

I don't see people sitting on their hands when "Black Violin" plays a classical duet.

Music, as my violin teacher taught me, is the language of emotion. it brings out our emotions and sometimes those emotions break through before a piece is complete. Opera's are known to be stopped with demands for an encore and Opera fans and producers consider that a win.

Condemning those who "aren't in the Know" assures that they won't come to another classical concert and when enough people won't come because of all the rules, there won't be anymore classical concerts.

September 17, 2023 at 06:25 PM · I voted “Yes, the audience should be asked not to applaud.” It would be good of more artistic directors did as Director Spence did before the Camarata Pacifica performance. I’ve known of some organizations that have this instruction, not to applaud between movements, in their printed programs; but, then, how many attendees bother to read this?

Still, I could forgive attendees for applauding between symphony movements. Where I found applause especially annoying was in opera, which is, after all, musical drama, not just another voice recital. The Puccini works are especially problematic in this regard. Case in point: La Bohème, Act I, the back-to-back arias of lead tenor and lead soprano. When there’s no break between them, the dramatic tension keeps building, as it should; but, unfortunately, these arias have become such popular recital pieces that audiences will applaud them in theater, sometimes for a very long time. This breaks the dramatic continuity. By contrast, in the later Wagner works, each act is a continuous outpouring of music and drama. The way the composer wrote each act, you just can’t stop the show.

September 17, 2023 at 07:44 PM · Imagine that you are in the audience, and in the concert program there is a statement that, "The audience is expected to applaud and cheer not only at the conclusion of the entire concerto, but also between the concerto movements." What would your reaction be?

September 17, 2023 at 08:30 PM · Do they "hate" the concert because of the rules, or because they don't know the rules?

September 17, 2023 at 10:22 PM · For me, it depends entirely on the nature of the movement. The Tchaikovsky is a perfect example of a first movement that has so much energy and excitement that the soloist and orchestra hand to the audience that it seems unnatural and indeed a bit snobbish if they sit on their hands.

If I would perform the Baal Shem Suite I would not want them to applaud after the Vidui and Nigun. Similarly, if I perform the Franck, I would not want them to applaud after the first and third movements. But after the second, go for it! A pleasant announcement beforehand is ok but if they forget, we shouldn’t make them feel foolish.

The pianist, Gary Graffman told a story about how he once squelched applause where he didn’t want it. It turned out that Heifetz was in the audience and came backstage after the concert. “Young man” he said, “never shush your audience!”

September 17, 2023 at 11:36 PM · I listened to the Viano Quartet at Western University on Friday and the 1st violin smiled, grinned in fact, at the audience when many clapped between movements. Those students, visitors and faculty from other disciplines felt welcomed and valued. That’s important and so much better than seeing individuals in the audience embarrassed by their positive and generous reaction when they clap at the “wrong” time. I would rather read the program for content instead of counting the movements to avoid putting myself in that position.

September 17, 2023 at 11:54 PM · Re ~ Should Audiences be pre-warned or kindly advised to defer any applause until After? {#10}

Thank You Raphael Klayman for the Story of my Mentor, Jascha Heifetz, backstage telling then young Great American Pianist, Gary Graff, "Young man" JH offered, "never shush your audience!" I would RX following Mr. Heifetz's very wise and all knowing counsel which was born of his globalsuccess with audiences of Every Size, aka, from the poorest of the poor knowing little of Music to the US and Allied WWII Troops attending his remarkable Jascha Heifetz, US Army Private 1st Class, Violin Recital's given all over Theatre's of War in Africa; parts of Europe and throughout the South Pacific yet always programming his 'normal' concert violin recital repertoire and in so doing forever honouring his Audiences even if they knew not much about classical music!!! Mr. Heifetz knew so much more than all of us here and throughout the Global Concert Going Audience Community, I would follow his RX!!!

Of course, to the point of another Replier above, Rock Concerts/Popular Music Concerts are both truly different 'animal's' musically and Audience Excitement as Applause with Yells of Bliss are to be expected when a performer as Carlo Santana plays his Universal famous & beloved, "One Como Va" which last time received a standing ovation worthy of winning Two WWII's from the excited and loving it audience!!! In this genre, I'm sure Santana, himself, would've been disappointed if anything other than an audience 'stampede' had occurred, i.e., polite applause one might expect in London's Wigmore Hall after offering a Mozart Violin & Piano Sonata to open the Classical Music Programme!

The more I think of Mr. Heifetz's wise words to young Gary Graffman, the more I do believe his words should be taken to heart by All here and very important to delete any We's from "Them's" which, IMO, lately is becoming divisive amongst even close longtime friends in other aspects of our daily lives in the US ...

A Word: The other evening, I had the good fortune to accidentally to tune in to a Homily from a well known clergyman with a huge viewing audience speaking to his vast Congregation about the subject of Honour ... The Pastor spoke lovingly of Honouring our Parents even if they had not always been perfect or far from it regarding decision making raising us and other parents of other generations ... He emphasized the importance of taking the First Commandment in the Bible which states: "Honour Thy Mother and Thy Father" ... This was expanded upon by the Pastor to include all of us and to refresh our approach to How we Honour our Family Members and Why we do not honour them saying, "If we do not honour our own family, how are we to honour, aka, respect any others with whom we come into close contact or any contact?!" The Pastor offered an example: We sometimes honour strangers on the street if we cross in front of accidentally run in to a person, saying immediately, "I'm sorry!' yet we do not say 'I'm sorry' to our family members due to being in the same household and growing up in The Family!" He went on to describe other situations and not here to repeat his Sermon, I do think it relevant to How we treat our audiences and How does a Music Director or even a Concert Soloist ask an Audience to Not Applaud until we're or I am done? Laurie's example of the very kind and considerate person with a 'Wink' requesting less applause to be able for all to go to the Bars prior to closing seems a prime example of How To, but most of those charged with such a task and a demanding one, probably may not fare as well ... It Is a very important issue to ponder and discuss, but I, for one, did not vote because one is and always has been concerned to never "Play Down" to those never having heard a classical violin concert and as has been stated here it is most important to not behave in a perceived by innocent others way, as "being a snob." I rest my case!!

Thanking Laurie for this very important Subject, I remain ~

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Yours musically from Chicago ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

................... Elisabeth Matesky .....................

Fwd ~ dmg

September 18, 2023 at 02:24 PM · For a formal concert event I think it's fine for the program to indicate where applause is welcome and not. But in the end, who cares? There really are very few places where it's really awkward to have applause.

About people "hating" classical music, I know people who don't like to go to classical recitals or concerts. But generally their reasoning is that the music is "boring" or that they "don't get it." Some will say that it's "too predictable." I don't ever hear about "rules" or frustration with concert etiquette. Maybe that's because I live in an area where a small minority of men in the audience would be dressed in a suit and tie to attend a concert (typically these are men who would ordinarily wear suits to work as well -- executives of one sort or another).

September 18, 2023 at 03:53 PM · its bad enough having to listen to people clapping themselves at the end - let alone between movements

September 18, 2023 at 04:33 PM · I'm generally glad that we're become more accepting and gracious about applause between movements, though it certainly need not become the standard audience practice. Once or twice I have been puzzled or even irritated by applause in silences NOT preceded by a tonic chord, and I've reflected that this wouldn't happen if the custom of German-speaking lands, of waiting & reflecting for few seconds, were observed.

Applause after aria or choruses is fine in most Italian operas, though it's a pity when it covers orchestra play-outs. Re. Jim Hastings' point about Wagner, he certainly terrifies me into not applauding spontaneously, for fear of punishment by flames or Norwegian hurricane. As always, the voice of Heifetz speaks great wisdom.

September 18, 2023 at 06:22 PM · I’m reminded of another Heifetz story about when he was playing for the troops during WWII. He played mostly encores but at one point he decided to play some Bach which he introduced “the next number is like spinach; you may not like it but it’s good for you.” When he finished they applauded vociferously and shouted “more spinach!” I’ve sometimes described in similar terms to a student, an etude or exercise that they weren’t enjoying. Alas they rarely clamor for more spinach!

September 18, 2023 at 07:40 PM · I love reading all your wonderful, thoughtful comments!

In the 'day' (up through the Classical period) a particular piece might be 3 or 4 movements, and the music director would, occasionally, insert another piece between movements so that new or interesting composers/ works would get a hearing: Audiences too participated much more with the performers in both expressing their feelings (good or bad). It wasn't until the late romantic period that audiences remained quiet while the orchestra (or other performing group) made their 'presentation' and applauded only at the very end of a work.

I love doing concerts where the audience expresses their delight (and sometimes disdain) for the music being presented and do not mind them applauding between movements-- or even after a particularly noteworthy (pun intended) solo bit. It makes a concert more fun for everyone.

That being said, there is value in listening to an entire piece (even multi-movement?) in a quiet setting where everything can be heard and not interrupted. In such environments, perhaps the audience should come in black tie also (white tie would be a bit much, I suspect). Do you want (as a musical director) your audience to be engaged with your music, or silent so that everyone can hear each nuance? I think both are acceptable -- let your audience know what to expect.

September 19, 2023 at 11:45 AM · Many great works demand respectful if not reverent silence between movements. Think, for example, Shostakovich's fifth symphony, first movement. It would be crass to announce in the program or from the rostrum that the audience should remain quiet - we trust their sensibilities in these circumstances and therefore I think we need to let them decide whether or not to applaud in other circumstances too.

September 19, 2023 at 12:50 PM · Its a bit weird that as I write this 57% said 'asked not to applaud' and yet almost every comment states the opposite, either that it is OK or that it is harmless. Where are the 57%??

IMO its generally fine. Perhaps I am not so sensitive to the nuances of the links between the movements - or maybe I am more sensitive and my sense of the whole piece are not affected by clapping. If its that important why not ask for no clapping at all so that the lingering pleasures at the end are not disturbed? To me the audience reaction is an integral, no absolutely essential element of why I enjoy the public performance.

Its easy to listen to the piece without audience interruption on youtube - where you can almost always find a better rendition (musically) anyway. And isn't the communal event a significant part of why you paid for the ticket?

September 19, 2023 at 02:18 PM · Actually, you know you've played great when you hear applause and whistling and shouts of "bravo!" from the composer.

Also, when Paganini played one of his own concertos, I wonder whether he encouraged the audience to applaud between movements.

September 19, 2023 at 03:56 PM · I read that when Vieuxtemps premiered his own fourth concerto, the audience erupted into applause after the beautiful introduction to the first movement. They were applauding Vieuxtemps, the composer before Vieuxtemps, the violinist played his first note. I have a feeling that Vieuxtemps didn’t mind.

September 19, 2023 at 05:04 PM · See what I mean? Bravo.

September 20, 2023 at 10:45 PM · I voted for allowing the audience to express their appreciation as they see fit. I’m honestly shocked to be in the minority.

We do ourselves no favors by encouraging the perception of elitism.

September 21, 2023 at 09:59 PM · Take heart, you are not in the vocal minority :)

Perhaps the other 57% are being quiet between topics ...

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