V.com weekend vote: Should audience members be permitted to clap between movements?

November 3, 2017, 9:19 AM · Most of us classical music insiders know that you're "not supposed" to clap in between movements of a symphony, concerto or similar work with movements.


It's one of those unspoken rules that perhaps make us seem a little snobby and could be unnerving to the newcomer who innocently claps with enthusiasm --and then feels like a dummy for doing so. This has been a topic of debate on our discussion page this week.

Well, nobody wants to make people feel uncomfortable about showing their enthusiasm. At the same time, since we go to so much trouble to create these musical moments of acoustic perfection, a lot of people would like to savor them. When a middle movement in a symphony ends in a mesmerizing hush, and the following movement is meant to build on that quiet -- well it just seems weird to have a burst of applause interrupting it. Yes, it can even be annoying!

Of course, some movements end with such bombast, they seem to beg for an ovation. I'm not bothered in the least by applause at the end of the marathon first movement of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, for example.

So should we permit applause sometimes, and not other times? Should we give up and just permit it always? Or should we always plan to instruct an audience from the podium, "With this piece, we'd like to you not to applaud," or "It's okay, clap away"? Please share your opinion in the vote, and then tell us about your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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November 3, 2017 at 03:12 PM · This is a legitimately tough question! From a historical perspective, clapping between -- and even sometimes during! -- movements is entirely acceptable. In a letter to his father dated 3 July 1778, Mozart described the premiere of his "Paris" Symphony, saying that the audience laughed, gasped, cried "hush!", and even applauded loudly in the middle of both the first and last movements. Later in Mozart's career (I believe during the premiere of his Piano Concerto K. 488), his audience was so enchanted by the slow movement that they demanded he repeat it before moving on to the last movement. Imagine that!

I've done some experimental performances of various classical works in which the audience was encouraged to clap between movements. Unfortunately, it always felt a bit forced, artificial, and uncomfortable. So, I'd say that the problem isn't (only) that applause isn't "permitted"; it's that even when people are asked to clap, there's something self-conscious and tentative about it all, as though they're doing it because they've been "told they're allowed to" rather than because they actually want to.

I'm not sure there's a good way out of this bind. My intuition says that the late 19th-century classical music culture we've inherited is so deeply ingrained that we won't be escaping it any time soon. On the other hand, these 19th-c attitudes are exactly what I spend every one of my concerts trying to subvert...!

November 3, 2017 at 03:35 PM · Yes, yes to audience participation!

November 3, 2017 at 05:27 PM · Someone should design a visual notice to display in addition to the audience, say a picture of hands clapping with a line through it and "please", "s'il vous plait", "bitte", etc. after it, because there's bound to be someone in the audience who didn't understand.

November 3, 2017 at 05:48 PM · I was just listening to a Mendelsohn piece on the radio last night where the announcer said that there were no breaks between movements, thought to be because Mendelsohn hated clapping in between movements. (A secondary reason was thought to be that he was emulating some other composer's work which did that.)

Personally, it pulls me out of the place the music put me in, which I don't appreciate.

November 3, 2017 at 05:58 PM · "...it pulls me out of the place the music put me in, which I don't appreciate."

I agree with Francesca. And in a similar way, I don't even like it when, at the end of a big work like a symphony, somebody starts clapping (or shouts) even before the last note has stopped resounding. I like to have a moment of silence after the music so the piece can be fully digested.

The one exception for me is opera. At the end of a particularly fabulous aria, it feels only right to call out "brava!" (or "bravo!"), or at least clap enthusiastically even if very briefly.

November 3, 2017 at 06:01 PM · Some of the common arguments I have seen for no clapping between movements ( distracts me, too loud, etc. ) make me wonder whether there is a higher incidence of sensory defensiveness amongst avid classical music lovers.

November 3, 2017 at 06:22 PM · I think we should continue to observe the current convention of not clapping between movements, unless something out of the ordinary calls for genuine, spontaneous applause.

What's really annoying is gratuitous clapping after every single solo when you go to hear jazz. I certainly wouldn't want that to start happening after every movement.

November 3, 2017 at 06:44 PM · And we wonder why audiences and ticket sales for "Classical Music" are declining... Yes, purists like the perfection of an audience that knows when, and when not to applaud. At the opposite extreme are the Suzuki families who cheer and applaud at the briefest moment of non-playing by their wunderkind.

There is no easy answer nor will there ever be any agreement on the rules. Then again, it used to be that the audience was expected to arrive in full formal attire. Shall we bring back that rule as well?

November 3, 2017 at 06:58 PM · We are 'allowed' to have fun at the Opera or a Broadway show, but have to sit like wax dummies when we listen to Orchestral Music, pretending to be serious and high-brow. I think I would have liked it better at Mozart's Gigs

November 3, 2017 at 07:12 PM · I cannot imagine a world where there is a right or wrong answer to this question. I find it interesting to read all the different responses. Personally, I lean toward no clapping between movements because, as an orchestra member, there is a mental and physical "zone" we are in that is totally disrupted by clapping between movements. I'd rather experience all the audience appreciation at one time, at the end of a piece when I can relax and appreciate their appreciation!

November 3, 2017 at 07:27 PM · Jan wrote, "What's really annoying is gratuitous clapping after every single solo when you go to hear jazz." Yes, as a jazz pianist who plays a lot of gigs, I agree with this totally. Very often the transition from one soloist to another is where some kind of subtle improvisational ideas are transferred, and applause just papers it over.

One idea that I've seen floated before is a statement in the concert program that says, "The Mozart Concerto will be performed as a single piece. Please hold your applause between movements."

November 3, 2017 at 09:00 PM · I attended a lunchtime chamber music concert recently where a small amount of clapping occurred between movements. Each time it was led by a loud pair of hands behind me, and others simply followed. It annoyed me a bit, and the players only acknowledged the clapping briefly, but in the end it didn't really matter. Not much can be done once the concert has started.

I didn't vote because I don't fully agree with any of the choices. An "undecided" option would be useful.

November 3, 2017 at 09:03 PM · I personally think there is no one answer here. As some have already noted, movements that end quietly, and even sustain that quiet into the next movement, there needs to be silence from the audience also. However, if a movement has ended with a huge flourish, such as the first movement of a concerto, sometimes it can be welcome to have applause, akin to in jazz, but at least waiting until the end of a movement. The tricky part is that any applause after a movement that isn't the last should only arise from a spontaneous feeling that it was warranted, not from any obligation

I think there should always be a couple of seconds pause before any applause, either to let the note ring out completely or let the silence sit for a moment.

I often go to musicals where audience members start clapping before the last note of a song has even finished, which feels that they are saying 'I know this is the end of the song', whereas I prefer to let the note ring out and sit for a moment. I have come to see a specific performer (such as Anthony Warlow as the Phantom) and would like to hear the entire performance.

November 3, 2017 at 09:32 PM · A big problem I have with clapping or not clapping, is I sit there all stressed out, waiting for some poor soul to start clapping, then realize they are the only one or two individuals who are clapping, fall silent, and I can feel their confusion and probable embarrassment. Even though I respect the convention, I like to think in the future, if it's really a problem for the musicians, they ask the audience to be quiet between the movements. Either that, or let's all go nuts and clap like crazy if we like it. It ain't the end of the world. These days, we have a lot more to worry about beyond clapping.

November 3, 2017 at 10:59 PM · Last weekend I attended a Julliard String Quartet concert and the audience (almost everyone) clapped vigorously after each movement. They played beautifully and with incredible perfection- it was simply irresistible to not clap. Afterward there was a standing ovation that lasted literally for several minutes.

November 3, 2017 at 11:56 PM · I tend to agree with Michael that it's a bit of a first-world problem. On the other hand, there is the issue that people are not "brought up" learning these conventions -- which might reflect the good news that classical music is appealing to people of more diverse backgrounds. That's why I see no harm in educating them in the printed program.

Oh, and about printed programs, don't let children hold them during the performance. Crinkle crinkle crinkle the whole way through. But not as bad as the recital I just came from, where a little girl wearing snow boots was permitted, by her parents, to go clomping around the audience (hardwood floor) during the entirety of the Ravel Sonatine for piano and the Poulenc Sonata for Violin and Piano (performed beautifully by violinist Nicole Paglialonga and pianist Jared Gibbs, both of Blacksburg). One should not have to write, in a printed program, "Please keep your children within supervisory distance and do not permit them behaviors that would totally wreck the recital for everyone else."

November 4, 2017 at 10:17 AM · Clapping doesn't bother me. Some famous performer (whish I could remember who) once said, never silence an audience that wants to show their appreciation.

What bothers me are talking, crinkling, unstifled coughing fits over minutes, whispering, eating (noisily), playing around with smartphones, running around ...

It has become part of our popular culture to constantly present ourselves and express our opinions. Yet I strongly believe that just being still and listening and absorbing art is a valuable and enriching cultural achievement. Just listening to others, being silent, without "contributing", letting our minds and imaginations do all the work - in our loud world of self-exposing this has to be trained and taught, and we need to create room for that. That's why I wouldn't whish for classical concerts to become like rock or pop concerts.

November 4, 2017 at 05:57 PM · Hi Laurie, I think up to now each member or guest can vote multiple times.

Also if I wanted to see the updated results I would need to vote again.

This may distort the results.

I wonder whether there could be a way to fix this.

November 4, 2017 at 11:16 PM · "permit" is a bit strong. How about discourage. Most audiences understand that it is best to let the music be heard and not be interrupted by applause. When it happens, nod and move on.

November 5, 2017 at 03:54 PM · Perhaps the "convention" should be to applaud only after the conductor has either turned around to face the audience, or at the very least lowered the baton, hence indicating that the performance has concluded.

November 5, 2017 at 08:15 PM · I didn't vote because there wasn't a #4 (or 5 or 6 or 7) that described my feeling. Which is: no "clapping" policy, versus a "no clapping" policy. I try to see it in the spirit of the moment and enjoy the audience's enthusiasm when a large number of people applaud after the first movement of something wow like Sibelius VC or, as mentioned, Tchaikovsky VC. (Happened last Sat pm at San Francisco Symphony, after Sibelius first movement - lots and lots of clapping.) But I can't say I want this mood of "we are customer-friendly! Clap lots! We are relevant and contemporary now!" I love the mood created in a symphony - I don't want the interruption. I've been to a string quartet performance where the musicians dealt with it very effectively, thanking audience members and then saying "we'd prefer that you hold off to the end..." I say if someone loves something so much that they are compelled to burst into applause, well, that's cool, and I wouldn't frown at them. ((Would drive me nuts if they were behind me and doing it frequently, though.)) But I honestly don't think it's going to increase symphony subscriptions if a "clap whenever you want!" policy became effective. If anything, subscriptions might drop.

And this is an excellent conversation, by the way. Am enjoying everyone's responses.

November 5, 2017 at 08:36 PM · I went to a piano trio recital recently, Some of the non-final movements ended with a high energy flourish, very brilliant. I remember thinking at the time how strange it was after the triumphant ending that we all sat quietly and waited for the next movement without showing any reaction. I'd have been delighted if the whole audience had burst into applause... but of course, no one did. I think the convention is counterproductive, emphasizing the solemnity rather than the excitement of classical concerts.

November 5, 2017 at 09:34 PM · But Katherine, when a non-final movement ends with a high energy flourish, there can be a very spiritual and vivacious feeling to holding silence as that cadence resounds and then fades to silence, a silence we all hold in meditation on what we just heard, in fully aroused anticipation of the likely contrast soon to come in the beginning of the next movement. Let the tension and the heightened alertness hover, the mindset unbroken, the musical break and continuity in an ironic consubstantiality bridged by that moment of silence.

November 5, 2017 at 11:04 PM · We just went to a Joshua Bell concert and were reminded that there were points where you don't want to have clapping at the end of a movement because sometimes, one movement goes directly into the next one without any sort of pause. AT one point, Bell had to hold up his hand to prevent applause between movements.

November 6, 2017 at 11:46 AM · The following is an excerpt from my blog post from yesterday:

[During Yo-Yo Ma's recital in Blacksburg], one striking observation was that nobody ever clapped between movements. Not once. Ma –- the consummate performer -- controls his audience from the stage. When a movement is just ending, he leans quite strongly toward Stott and appears to be looking to her for the next move. And she then begins the next movement immediately, and he relaxes his stance again. The audience, even the children, have thereby been taught the signal. At the end of the piece, well, they made that pretty obvious too: Hands in the air and broad smiles.

November 6, 2017 at 01:05 PM · I think that Paul Deck makes a valuable point about performers taking responsibility to communicate from the stage so that audiences perceive when to applaud.

Allow me to share a blog I wrote on this topic titled, "Let's Hear it for Applause".

Along with my own views, I cite opinions from pianists Emanuel Ax and Stephen Hough as well as author Alex Ross.

I also include a revealing quotation from Pres. Obama referring to the confusion that he and Pres. Kennedy felt regarding when to applaud at classical concerts at the White House.

November 7, 2017 at 06:05 PM · I wasn't able to vote either. I've tended to be pretty strict about not applauding between movement, but I'm beginning to soften. When I saw Jon Kimura Parker perform Prokofiev's Piano Concerto #3, he finished the first movement with such a flourish that two ladies sitting beside me couldn't resist bursting into applause. I think now that that should be OK. But it should be saved for special events like that - a sort of mini standing ovation - not become a ritual between every movement of every piece. And I would never want applause to mar the ending of a quiet, introspective movement where it would destroy the mood. (Nobody applauded after the second movement of the Prokofiev.)

November 10, 2017 at 12:35 AM · I voted "Yes, except when asked not to" -- which has 55% at this hour.

In instrumental music, I don't find applause too objectionable, although I'd rather have audiences wait till the last movement ends. Where I find it really annoying is in opera, because it can break up the dramatic continuity and interrupt the surge and build that you want to experience over the course of an act.

Case in point: Act I of Puccini's La Bohème. The back-to-back arias of lead tenor and lead soprano are part of an extended dialogue between these two leads; but because the selections come up so often in voice recitals, audiences routinely applaud as soon as the tenor delivers the last words, the hand-off line, to the leading lady before she replies.

I don't mind it as much when an audience applauds at the end of a scene -- or at the end of a major section, e.g., when one character finishes a double-aria movement and then runs offstage.

One reason I found 4+ hours of Wagner in theater less tiring than 4 hours of Mozart: In Wagner's later works, you just can't stop the show during an act. For 1 hour at a stretch, give or take, it's a continuous tissue of music-drama. I experienced the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th installments of the Ring tetralogy in theater -- and they were great. Fortunately, I had studied the works some time beforehand and knew not only how the music sounded but also what the characters were saying. Side note: I don’t recommend Siegfried for the uninitiated -- or the tired business traveler.

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