Monday, December 11, 2006

In praise of silence between movements

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.


Anonymous said...

Can I join your movement?

It seems to me that inter-movement clapping happens more often at populist concerts and is executed by people who have already given the impression that they are unfamiliar with the context. Fair enough, we all have massive chasms of ignorance. But, surely, in an unfamiliar setting, it's just good manners/common sense to observe and comply with what the majority are doing (with obvious caveats of course!)

Even worse than inter-movement applause is premature ejaculation. Eg, the singer has shut up and the curtain is beginning to fall, so the act is over, even though in the pit some bloke is still sawing away on his fiddle and some bird tootling on her oboe.

Or familiar pieces of music that have a pause just before the final denouement - Thais Meditation for example.

At a JDF concert the other night. He held the final B flat of La donna e mobile for two years, inviting a gradual crescendo of applause

Anonymous said...

It just seems to me the people who clap reflex-like when the music stops are close relatives of the people who clap when the plane lands safely at the end of an uneventful flight.

If it's OK to applaud between movements of a symphony conceived as a whole entity, isn't it OK to applaud between movements of a piano sonata or after the slow introduction of the "Prague" Symphony, just before "it finally gets going"? And how about after an especially impressive cadenza or the first fast section of the Liszt sonata? Pretty soon we may as well be at the ballet -- which I avoid for this very reason (among others).

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