Checked out the seasonal concert of the choir I sang with growing up today. They sound pretty fantastic these days, yet, as befits a concert with "children's" in the name, the audience etiquette was decidedly subpar. The rampant child non-disciplining and mid-song bathroom breaking is to be expected. As is the gratuitous applause after every. single. song. Including the individual movements of the Poulenc Mass in G. While the last breach might be forgiven in this setting, it made me remember just how bothersome clapping between movements is. And despite the opinion of some that clapping between movements is a sort of trick the sand/head bound classical elite uses to keep the potential prole Beethoven lovers in the dark, I feel I must reaffirm that inter-movement silence should be seen as progress in concert protocol, not some snobby tick to be eliminated.
I enjoy not clapping between movements. It sustains tension between the different components of the piece and makes the ending more satisfying. From the performer's perspective, I feel silence between movements helps to keep focus--maintain "character", if you will. Applause, on the other hand, is a cue to break character, and is thus intrusive when one is caught up in trying to express a single multi-movement work. Performers aren't awkward about excessive inter-movement clapping because they aren't used to it, they're awkward because they feel they still have more work to do.
Do I believe this is a hard and fast rule? Of course not. Many periods of opera have built in applause pauses, and these are very reasonable breaks in the action. Sometimes, in a concert piece, there is a performance so stupendous that all one can do is clap. It is nice when that happens, and refreshing. But it is spontaneous, and relatively rare, and should be kept so.
"Oh, but people used to clap between movements back in the day when classical music was actually popular!" they say. I say whatever. People didn't know a lot of things back when classical music was popular. Moreover, I see no reason to dignify the claim that inter-movement clapping has some relationship to classical music's likeability.
Thus, I call on non-inter-movement clappers of the world to unite. Listening to nonstop applause after every movement is annoying. People interested in the music don't like it and performers don't like it. It's just an inefficient way to run a modern concert. And it's a piss-poor way to attract new classical music lovers. I mean, who are the wilting daisy rock enthusiasts who are so wounded when they find out the concert hall protocol is no clapping until the entire piece is over? Do these people actually exist? And do we even want them in the club? I mean, we still have some standards right?
Just remember kids, only Communists clap between movements.
Update: ACD reprises an earlier post with a nice elaboration of the historical angle here.