This made me happy. A few weeks ago, I spoke to the applause-between-movements topic, as an aside to a different question. Here’s my quote, and please note the piece I chose as an example:
Normally, the question is one of applause, and whether it’s cool to just do what you feel and yes, applaud Alfred Brendel after he rocks the first movement of the Emperor Concerto, even if he’s annoyed that you’re doing so.
Fine. Now what made me happy was reading (as usual, in The Rest is Noise) that the eminent pianist Emanuel Ax and I are on the same wavelength:
All of us love applause, and so we should – it means that the listener LIKES us! So we should welcome applause whenever it comes. And yet, we seem to have set up some very arcane rules as to when it is actually OK to applaud. I have been trying to find out exactly when certain listeners and performers decided that applause between movements would not be “allowed”, or at least would be frowned upon, but nobody seems to have been willing to admit that they were the culprit. Certainly when a composer like Beethoven wrote the symphonies and piano concertos that we hear today in the concert hall, he himself expected that if a movement ended with a flourish, such as the first movement of the 5th piano concerto, the audience would leap to its collective feet and let the composer (and pianist) know that they had triumphed.
Now I wish I’d chosen Ax instead of Brendel as my hypothetical pianist. But now I know that Ax won’t be annoyed if I applaud. Maybe Brendel wouldn’t be, either.
UPDATE: Marcus Maroney has added a new layer to this mix by referencing Alfred Brendel in his blog entry on the applause topic. I won’t quote that reference here, as the last thing we want to do is continue this weird tangent about a silly coincidence, but it’s still funny that wherever I look, the coincidence continues. Is the Emperor concerto really the only piece of music with a first movement that demands applause? Does Alfred Brendel have to be involved in this conversation? This is beyond coincidence – it must be proof that We Are Not Alone.
All silliness aside, I tend to agree with Marcus Maroney’s point, here:
I don’t see why it’s elitist, stuffy, conservative, academic, or pious to want to submerge myself in an atmosphere and take in a work as a whole. I’d rather sacrifice the applause between movements of a work like the Emperor Concerto for the sake of not having to deal with it between movements of everything, which will be the eventual outcome. I think the preference for applause at the end of the work, for its performance as a whole, is the most appropriate.
Anyone who has heard the fantastic Leontyne Price recording of Barber’s Hermit Songs, with the composer at the piano, knows that the days of all-applause, all-the-time are not days to which we should lightly return. There’s nearly as much applause as music in that recording, as the audience feels compelled to interrupt the flow of the cycle after each and every song. I’d like to think that there’s a middle ground between the Ross and Maroney Doctrines, but perhaps this is one of those issues where a certain degree of dogma is required. In any case, I will definitely agree with MM’s conclusion:
Let’s face it – there simply aren’t going to be a whole lot of new audience members that just “wander in” to the concert hall, become embarassed, get laughed at and leave when they clap after the first movement they hear. The new audience is going to come from current concertgoers inviting their friends and coworkers. It’s our job to make the new audience realize just how special the event that’s about to take place truly is. It’s going to take work – but it’s worth it.
OK, then. Let’s get to work.