Classical applause

So – when should you clap?

This is a very tricky subject and I have to be careful what I say. Every musical genre has its traditions when it comes to applause – for instance, I understand that when listening to jazz, one is supposed to applaud every solo, right in the middle of the music. That would be very unusual in the average classical concert – though it happened just recently during Nigel Kennedy’s new version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at the Proms.

So do you simply wait until the players stop and put their instruments down? Well, up to a point, but it’s not as simple as that. If the piece is all in one movement – like Ravel’s Bolero, say – then it’s obvious where it starts and finishes and where to applaud. But other pieces have more than one bit, or movement, so it starts, then stops, then starts again. Symphonies or concertos might have one, two three, four, five or even more movements. Should you clap at the end of each one, or wait till the end?

Well, it’s not going to help you to discover that even classical music nerds have different opinions on this. Up until about the end of the nineteenth century, it was usual to clap every movement as it finished – and even to ask for it to be played a second time, straight away, before the next movement was heard. It wasn’t always the case though – think of the great Mendelssohn Violin Concerto – it has three movements but they are all joined together with little linking passages of music, so you can’t applaud until the end.

Gradually it became more and more the thing to keep silent in between movements (except for shuffling about a bit and having a quick cough). Mahler even put an instruction in his second symphony that there should be a five-minute silence between the first and second movements. Five minutes! That really is an awfully long time – long enough to boil an egg so that the white is firm and the yolk is still runny! Of course, hardly anybody ever does it. The pause I mean. Obviously, people boil eggs all the time.

Anyway, back to applause – the latest trend is for people to start applauding whenever they particularly like a movement, so you might get a wild burst of clapping after the first movement, a little gentle patter of emotion after the slow movement, and wild cheers and a standing ovation at the end of the last movement. The thing is that the only time that you can be absolutely sure that everyone will be applauding is right at the end. And even then, there might be a few people who thought it was rubbish.

So, what to do? As with picking mushrooms in the wild, my advice would be to take someone with you who knows more than you do, but that’s not always possible. If you go with the flow of your own feelings, you might find you’re the only one clapping in an otherwise deadly silence. Everybody will turn round and look at you – but if you’re fine with that, go ahead! The thing is, the more you go to concerts, the more you will get used to it. Before you know it, you will be the one who is launching into a fusillade of applause and shouting ‘Bravo!’

Click here to hear Classics from Scratch Series 2 Episode 5 on Spreaker.

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Published in: on August 30, 2013 at 10:14  Leave a Comment  

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