Henry Fogel recently wrote a piece exploring whether denying people the opportunity to applaud between movements of a piece was causing people to be scared of attending a classical music concert. He quotes various sources from the past pointing out examples of where the audience have applauded during the work, and makes it seem natural.
Now, I am a “traditionalist” – though Mr Fogel would have me believe otherwise – because I do not want to applaud after movements – only after the work. There are a number of reasons that I do this. First of all, I have been a performer. I know the concentration that is required for an entire work. Just because you’ve completed one movement, doesn’t mean that you can let down your guard. If someone chooses to clap, and the whole audience then joins in, your concentration is broken, and it can take a little while for you to get back into it. Second – despite what Mr Fogel says – I believe that works are intended to be conceived as a whole. Even a work such as Scheherazade, which Mr Fogel claims to be four separate tone poems, is in itself one tone poem that is split up into four different sections. But there is a common story line that runs through the whole work. Disrupting this through applause is like standing up and cheering during an ad break on the telly. There’s still more to go, and it’s just going to get better. In Scheherazade, the whole work is building up towards the last movement.
And it’s not just tone poems either. Concerti are the ones most often interrupted by Applause, generally after the first movement, which more than likely has the most fantastic cadenza that even I want to applaud their work. However, any multi-movement work – including concerti – must be conceived in a wholistic manner. If you separate each movement then the connection is lost. There is then no reason for the second movement to be slower. There is then no reason for the works to be in related keys.
Now, I don’t scorn the people who do applaud – and perhaps that is the real change that needs to be made. Ensure that we as musicians do not scorn those that want to applaud, but in a like manner – allow those who wish to remain silent and take in the work as a whole to do so. The change is then not so much of a forced one – one of encouraging people to applaud, thus taking away from those who wish to take in as a whole – but is a welcoming one that welcomes people into classical music, no matter whether they want to applaud at every movements end, or whether they – like myself – wish to take in the work as a whole.