Clapping

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The BBC Proms starts tomorrow. An interesting fun piece on the Today programme the other day, someone complaining about inappropriate Proms behaviour, mainly too much clapping between movements and in particular too quick to clap after the beauty of the music. His interesting point was that the immediate silence after a piece is part of the music, which it is, of course.

I’d be a bit fiercer about it though – the phrase “too much clapping between movements” will not do because any clapping between movements is unacceptable – a symphony, for example, is a “sounding together” usually split into four movements but by careful use of key-sequence and often thematic cross-reference, the composer cleverly makes it a single piece. Applause between movements is an interruption of the continuity of a work. Applause crashing in after the thoughtful end of a piece is equally offensive. I recall Gergiev refusing to lower his arms for at least a whole minute after conducting Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (which dies away to silence at the end), thereby forcing the audience not to move or make a sound. Maybe immediate applause is not disturbing after a joyful conclusion (as mentioned on the Today programme and elsewhere, giving Beethoven’s Choral Symphony as an acceptable example) but I am not interested in who can shout or clap the soonest or loudest. Could we perhaps have concert bouncers in the Albert Hall to remove the clappers and hold them in stocks erected outside the concert hall until the rest of the audience leaves – maybe throwing cabbages or decaying fruit at the interrupters as they pass?

In the 2001 Proms, Leonard Slatkin asked the audience to refrain from clapping after he performed Barber’s Adagio for Strings in memory of the 9/11 victims.

Some clapped.

In the “Beethoven Experience” weekend at the Royal Festival Hall in London about 20 years ago, Roger Norrington positively encouraged the audience to applaud between movements of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony. His reasoning was “that’s what they would have done at the time.”

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