To Applaud or Not to Applaud?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 - 04:36 PM

Recently President Obama brought classical music to the White House. His only problem: he claimed not to know when to applaud.

I have done a bit of research on why classical audiences don’t applaud after movements and you get a variety of thoughts. First, I’m told, that in Mozart and Beethoven’s time, the audiences would often applaud DURING and after movements, similar to current Jazz concerts. Movements would often be repeated if the audience went wild enough. So our current practice is not echoing some historical behavior. Some think the “Golden Age of Recording” in the 1950’s solidified the practice of applauding at the end of a multi-movement work, because audiences were told to ‘be quiet, we’re recording.’

For me, I like it when audiences are so moved they applaud after movements! There is also a sense of elitism about this, in that, you ‘have to know the rules’ to be a part of a classical concert.

I’m ready to abandon this ‘sit on your hands’ practice.

What do you think?

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Comments [137]

Peter Heisler

As far as I know it was actually Furtwangler who started the practice of not clapping between movements in the USA during his only visits here in the late 1920's. Some critics did not agree, however, I agree that it SHOULD NOT be done since clapping ruins the mood of the piece.

Feb. 03 2011 09:25 AM
Michael C from Garrison NY

I could reply from several different perspectives, from that of a devoted and passionate lover of great music, from that of a working arts administrator, and from that of a former professional performing artist. But I won't. I will say only one thing - if the music and performance moves you...applaud! It will make the total concert going experience so much more alive and immediate.

Apr. 15 2010 12:02 PM
Bill D from NJ

I recently learned something interesting that gives a nerw light on this. I recently was reading a marvelous book about the Bach cello suites and in the book the author (who was originally a pop music critic) said that the idea of not clapping between performances is a relatively new invention, within the past couple of generations or so.

I am currently reading a book about conductors written in 1943, and the author makes the point that 'up until recently' (his words), that it was normal to clap after each movement. He went on to say that one conductor (he thought it might have been furtwangler, figures) started the practice of going on and not stopping after the movement. He went on to say something interesting, that the movements of the piece are different enough that there is generally nothing artististic that necessitates playing on with no applause (There are exceptions, the 1st and 2nd movement of the Mendelsohn for example has a continuing bassoon line that would be lost). More interesting, according to this book it was a practice that started here in the US.

I also suspect that clapping between movements being discouraged might be a time issue as well, given how expensive and how rigid start and end times are at concert halls (the genesis for another discussion, about the ridiculous cost of putting on performances). Given how expensive overtime is at performance venues, or how much they try to pack in 2 hours, any time saved became golden I suspect as well.

Sad, because I think there is room to express emotion between movements, and quite frankly given how all other forms of music work, it is a lot more natural then the somewhat stilted etiquette of classical music.

Mar. 29 2010 10:33 PM
Peter Muldavin

To those (myself included) who have always help back applauding between movements, and have almost smugly backed this up with "it's proper" concert etiquette, let us take time to read some of the earlier posts in this thread about the history and tradition of applauding: i.e., in past times it was not only not discouraged, but encouraged. How quickly we forget!

I used to feel I knew what was right, but then I actually asked some notable musicians and conductors themselves (such as Louis Langre) and was surprised to learn that they did not feel any negativity towards mid-piece applause.

Mar. 21 2010 11:36 AM
bernard selby

I agree with the above comment, plus the silence that immediately follows the end of a piece is part of it.

Mar. 18 2010 08:13 PM

There is a wonderful piece by Alex Ross on his website Unquiet Thoughts (March 10)- a lecture he gave about applause during concerts. An eye-opening, extremely knowledgeable opinion and it has made me re think my own perhaps narrow rule. Please read it. Everyone should read it.


Mar. 12 2010 08:41 PM
Paul - NJ

My personal feeling is to wait until the entire piece is completed to give applause.

Mar. 04 2010 11:10 AM
Chavdar Ghelev from Sofia, Bulgaria

Mendelssohn hated applause between movements so much that he composed many of his works (the best example of which is his violin concerto) without any pause at all between movements.

Feb. 28 2010 10:47 AM
Louis from New York

I find the mandatory applause after every solo at jazz performances to be for the most part gratuitous. I applaud after a solo only if I've been moved or impressed. I've read of a father telling a child in such a circumstance that failure to applaud would hurt the musicians feelings!

Feb. 23 2010 12:17 AM
Sara Sant'Ambrogio

I never mind when an audience shows its appreciation of a performance that has moved them. My trio, Eroica Trio, once got a standing ovation after the 1st movement of the Beethoven Triple at Lincoln Center with Mostly Mozart Festival. The conductor was not too pleased but I thought it was fantastic and I certainly felt uplifted by their pleasure when we started the 2nd movement. Usually one can telegraph to the audience at the end of a slow movement to let the music die away before showing their appreciation. I don't feel comfortable telling the audience that they are doing something wrong by showing enthusiasm. When I was in Russia for the Tchaikovsky Competition, in the winners recitals afterwards, the audience applauded DURING some of my pieces! The Russian pianist I was playing with told me that they were showing me that they wanted me to repeat a section I had just finished because they had like it so much! It was very exciting to have such an interactive audience.

Feb. 10 2010 03:14 PM

It does disturb me when a piece is disturbed by applause. However, I think that few who do so are just so enthusiastic that they have to applaud. I think it is ignorance of the piece, movements, and/or appropriateness of the applause. Would I rather have ignorant fellow listeners or nothing to listen to because the elitists or purists drove others away? I'll take a clapping listener over an abandoned radio station or concert hall any day, thank you. But for those of you who know better, but just do it any way : Pease don't interrupt.

Feb. 08 2010 08:52 PM
Robert Jones

It occurs to me that perhaps giving concert-goers the best possible opportunity to hear and appreciate the music would actually help to"ensure that classical music continue to be part of the experience of future generations."

Jan. 23 2010 03:09 PM
Margaret Sisko from New York City, NY

Perhaps to ensure that classical music continue to be part of the experience of future generations , those of us classically trained or familiar by choice, for years, should be less rigid about clapping at movement endings, even though it oft times may disturb total flow or absorption and introspection of a previous movement before the next.

Jan. 20 2010 08:33 PM
Daniel Rutkowski from New York City

Try and wait until the piece is complete. Yes, the personal feelings evoked from music are important but it is certainly possible to control them.

Jan. 20 2010 03:32 PM
tom from New York

I used to think that art music was the last refuge of audiences who really paid attention.

By holding your applause until the end of the piece you show the musicians that you've read the program and you're interested in the work and their performance of it.

As for Obama, there's still a lazy man's solution: wait until the musicians put down their instruments or stand and bow.

Jan. 12 2010 11:52 AM
Karen H. from Kingston, NY

I have noticed that the very best performances usually create a moment of silence. When people are really listening, they hang on every note in awe of an exceptional performance. I am against aplause untill the end, but even then most folks don't really listen, or read theor program notes for how many movements there are. Once I heard the New York Phil do the Harry Janos suite. However the conductor included the entire suite, not just the movements we are used to hearing on most recordings. Nearly the entire audience applauded before the peice was over. I hate when everyone applauds toward the end of Invitation to the dance. There is a big orchestral florish, but then the final mesures of cello and woodwinds is buried in applause. I heard Solti attemt to conduct through the third to forth movement of the Tshicowsky 6th. We in the rear balcony missed the opening mesures of the 4th movment. If thinking of your fellow concert goer is elitist, maybe there is no room for classical music in this modern selfish world.

Jan. 10 2010 08:42 PM
tracy smith from new york, new york

I'm all for it! Anything to "destigmatize" classical music.

Dec. 29 2009 04:47 PM
marianne from washington heights with static

I notice that when we mention good manners and courtesy and regard for others we are criticized as "stuffy" and "elitists" and responsible for reducing the attendance of young people at concerts. I think young people don't attend because 1) their parents have failed to see that they are properly educated -- that is to appreciate and seek out the best the world has to offer; and 2) they can't afford the ticket prices.

Good manners are never wrong, and I'm happy to be "stuffy" if I think they are.

As for applauding when we are moved, well, why not after any splendidly played phrase or movement or cadenza? Why wait for the pauses? We can add our percusion instrument skills (clapping hands) to the performance.

Dec. 25 2009 07:44 PM
Yolanda from NYC

I am definately one to wait till the end to applaud. I am there to enjoy the music and only the music.

Dec. 21 2009 03:10 PM
Norm Driscoll

Itzak Perlman said it all with a wave of his left hand to the audience at his breathtaking all Beethoven concert at New Jersey's PAC last month.
In the break between the 1st and 2nd movements of the 3rd Symphony, several people started to applaud. Mr. Perlman 'chided' them with a wave of his left hand. The rest of the concert was properly rewarded.
Is he right? Probably, but one month later, when the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center presented all six Brandenburg's, there was sporadic (and well deserved) applause at the end of the movement, for the harpsichord 'cadenza' in 2, and the horns in 3. And the concert master acknowledged and encouraged the response.
We are in a state of transition; let's not throw out the baby with the wash water. I was thrilled to see a pretty full house at both performances, and look forward to many more.
Imagine: no applause, no more concerts.

Dec. 16 2009 07:37 PM
beverly joy from up the hudson

the conductor is in charge. he must needs be, as he/she is the one that brings all the muscians together to find symphony from cacaphony... the sweet silence we hear between movements is every bit as much a part of the whole as the strings, winds, brass, tympany.. and the conductor holds this silence, retroups his players, takes a breath and goes on. it is not for the audience to break the spell and create disparate noise of its own chosing . vive la silence ! it is golden!

love, bev

ps love your show! so GLAD you're here!

Dec. 16 2009 09:49 AM
Eddie from Long Island

Why not applaud if something moves you? A lot of people regard classical music as "stuffy". Put some of these people in an audience where they are willing to learn to appreciate the classics, have them hear a climactic end to a movement, start to applaud, and see their faces as they're the only ones applauding - they'd be so embarrassed that they'd never come to another concert. What a shame!

Dec. 15 2009 02:56 PM

Guess what? Most symphonies written before 1810 or so DON'T have an underlying sense of unity between movements. Brahms was affronted when the audience at the premiere of his first piano concerto DIDN'T applaud after the first movement---he took it as a sign that they didn't like the piece. Almost everyone here sounds incredibly stuffy and elitest---I'm not saying people should applaud while the music is actually being performed, but applause between a movement of a Mozart symphony was expected during his time and does not disrupt the unity. Also, even if it did disrupt the so-called unity between movements---why does applause, and not loud, obnoxious coughing, cause such a "break" in a unified piece of music? Obviously applause between, say, the third and fourth movements of Beethoven's Fifth wouldn't make sense, but between the first and second movements it seems appropriate.

Here is the final word on the matter:

Dec. 12 2009 08:50 PM
Francisca Sabadie

i must admit that i am probably in favor of deferring applause because this would just open the door wider to those people who seem to be competing as to who can be the first to applaud - and then ruin the last moments of the opera, especially if the music is poignant - jsut the same way that intermissions which granted are sometimes necessary - interrupt the flow of the play in particular - as far as elitism is concerned, does this mean that i can't go to the Superbowl if the Saints make it since i don't know the rules?!

Dec. 12 2009 06:36 PM
Robert Dagny from New York

Applauding at concerts before the end of a particular musical selection spoils the arc of the piece and interrupts the flow. But, as bad as that is, it is horrendous at a play when the audience applauds after every scene! it breaks the mood of the play for me and I am very angry that theatregoers feel that they have to participate in the play. Plays are NOT musicals where it is expected that you applaud after the musical number. Worse, the "standing ovations" at the end... Most of them are not warranted but, as Sondheim and pay that much money and maybe it's their one theatre event for the year ,they want to feel that they are participating. Interesting thought, but its gotten ludicrous and has become a Pavlovian response that has nothing to do with whether the show deserves it or not.

Dec. 11 2009 10:38 PM
Deborah from NYC

Recently someone applauded after the 2nd mov't of a piece conduted by R. Multi. He actually turned slightly to the audience and waved at them to stop.
I prefer to wait until then end. I am on a musical journey until the end of the piece.

Dec. 11 2009 02:11 PM
Anne Conway from Bayside, NY

I agree with holding all applause until a classical piece has been completed in its entirety. While I also enjoy the raucous, free-wheeling atmosphere at a ballgame or rock concert, a classical or opera performance is an artform deserving of this respectful tradition.

Dec. 10 2009 03:58 PM
Michael Meltzer

Mr. Collin happened to hear one of the very best young pianists out there. WQXR would do well do dig around for any recordings of John Novacek to be found and put them up front for a while, let the public get to know him. He made a recording of the Ravel: Alborada del Gracioso that will knock your socks off.

Dec. 10 2009 08:29 AM
Dwight Collin from Rochester, New York

I would like to amend a comment I made earlier. The "Bravo Guys" and "Rebel Yell Girls" are not always offputting. Last night I attended a wonderful concert at the Eastman School of Music by Leila Josefowicz and John Novacek. The audience behaved beautifully. For example, before clapping with enthusiasm, we stayed silent (perhaps stunned) for a full eight seconds after the end of the Shostakovich Sonata Op. 134. Finally, after the encore, the Bravo Guys and Rebel Yell Girls came out of the woodwork, and it sounded and felt perfectly appropriate.

Dec. 09 2009 04:21 PM

We would like to encourage users to express their opinions in the correct forum so that they can be addressed by the appropriate people. This blog is meant for responses to the comment posted above.

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Dec. 07 2009 03:03 PM

Nimet Habachy's signature tune for "New York at Night" was Debussy's "En Bateau", for 2 pianos. Does anybody know which recording of "En Bateau" was used in her show?

Dec. 06 2009 03:49 PM
Robert Jones

It appears this is an issue that matters to a significant number of people (Thank you Elliott for raising it).
Suggestion: Concerts can be designated in advance as (for example) "Applause-free" or "free-to-applaud", and then people can attend the ones that work for them.

Dec. 06 2009 12:29 PM
Paul Kaufman from New Jersey

The composer created his/her work as a unity, not intended to be interrupted by a jarring noise, like applause. Some of the most moving moments in a symphony are the silences between movements, when the listener is captivated by both the echo of the previous movement and the anticipation of what is to follow. Interrupting this significant moment with applause (or worse, cheering), is rude, offensive, and inconsiderate of one's fellow listeners, as well as being disrespectful to the composer. I've often felt that people try to outdo one another with the length or volume of their applause-- this behavior does not indicate how knowledgeable or enthusiastic they are; rather, it demonstrates their degree of shallowness.

Dec. 03 2009 07:52 PM
Micci from nyc

I would rather applaud after every movement but some musicians say that the applause affects their concentration and focus. I wonder if any musicians can comment on whether this is true or not.

Dec. 02 2009 08:33 PM
debi unger from computer

First, I want to say that I miss Clayelle. Second, that I wish Elliott Forrest were still on in the afternoons. But most of all, I would like WQXR to reach Bradley Beach on the Jersey Shore like it used to when it was 96.3. I used to listen when I walked on the boardwalk. Now I can only get it on my car radio or Bose at home.

If the issue whether to applaud between movements of a long piece of classical music, I think the answer is clearly "no." And this has nothing to do with elitism. The mid-movement applause interrupts the concentration and attention one brings to listening to the music. I think the pauses between movements are necessary but the clapping detracts from the emotional experience. When the music is over, that is the time to show ones appreciation, obviously the more enthusiastic the better for the musicians.

Dec. 02 2009 07:04 PM

I was wondering what Victor Borge would answer to this question.

I know many people only consider him as making fun of the "classics."

Yet he was trained in the classics and was able to bring an understanding of the music to many people through his performances.

I believe that if a section is well performed and has the people involved and the performers did an outstanding "job" one would like to reward them for their effort.

Dec. 01 2009 06:14 PM
George Malko from New York

I once asked my late father, the conductor Nicolai Malko, about this. During one of his concerts, some in the audience had applauded after the 1st movement of a symphony--I cannot remember which one it was. My attitude was critical, even censorious: how gauche, how ill-informed, how ... you get the idea. My father was more generous. He said that some in the audience might have thought they were supposed to applaud at the end of a movement, while others might have applauded because they had enjoyed what they heard. The important thing, he said, was not to embarrass them, not to damage their capacity to enjoy what they were hearing.

Dec. 01 2009 05:47 PM
Michael Meltzer

People who cough at the end of a movement have usually been holding in the cough for much of the movement itself, so as not to disturb their neighbors or the musicians. If they got up and walked out to cough in the lobby, they would disturb them even more.
Lighten up!

Dec. 01 2009 02:42 PM
Larry Stoler from Stamford, CT.

I remember attending a classical concert where at the end of a movement, a person in the audience coughed.

I wonder if the person who coughed did that because they didn't want to admit that they didn't know the work they were listening to or if they truly had a cold. We'll never know the answer to this question.

Dec. 01 2009 02:04 PM
Vincent Jackson

Mr. Forrest -

Why is Annie Bergen not listed among the announcers on the website of WQXR? Is she merely a temporary hire for the Sunday afternoon slot? As for applauding between movements, in Beethoven's time this was quite common, and generally expected. I'm not sure when the practice was changed, but I would favor seeing a return to a time when people could applaud freely.

- Vincent

Nov. 30 2009 07:30 PM

I just attended a concert that included a piece: Seven Songs of de Falla.

Applause after each song in the set just didn't allow for flow of the entire set.

I haven't read all of the comments, but I think it's also rough on the performer in determining how much ackowledgment to give -- a nod? A bow? Acknowledging the accompanist? Sometimes? Every time?

Save the applause for the end of a work or set of songs, in my opinion.

Nov. 29 2009 04:42 PM
Paul L

I personally believe audiences should continue to wait until a performance of an entire work is completed before applauding. However, I'll never forget my first classical concert many years ago. After a first movement, some innocent applause was met with a harsh chorus of "SSSHHH!ing (which seemed as loud as the offending applause). And, in the moment, I couldn't help feeling that these people were really saying " YOU don't know you shouldn't applaud but I do!!"
So I agree on abstaining for all the reasons listeners have mentioned,but that concert may have been my brush with elitism.

Nov. 29 2009 01:34 AM
steve o' from NY

Stop stopping between movements then there's no question of when to applaud. Composers did not write in coffee breaks! One NJPAC concert, a trio made up of famous soloists actually left the stage at the end of the 1st movement of a piece they were performing and then returned to bitch at the audience because we were so taken aback, we somehow thought they finished, and so applauded their efforts. Yep, we were the idiots they implied we were....we should have stayed home.

Nov. 28 2009 07:42 PM
Victor from Brooklyn

We should respect the narrative continuity of the music and not applaud until the piece is concluded. However, when a particular movement is uniquely inspiring, applause is appropriate. But this should be on extremely rare occasions. Otherwise it becomes meaningless, just as the audience's standing for Broadway curtain calls has become meaningless, because it now happens at every show.

Nov. 28 2009 11:31 AM
David from NJ

Perhaps its a bit elitist and contrary, while acknowledging that applause is the audience's chance to credit the musicians and composer, that as the quality of the musicians and audience increase (here's the elitist bit), as evidenced by our choice in music, radio stations, and concerts, so should our behavior and most importantly the sophistication of the musicans and composers to realize our appreciation in remaining still until the end.

Nov. 28 2009 10:33 AM
elaine from riverdale,ny

Please,please please-NO applauding between movements of symphonies or suites-or groups of related songs!!You have probably invested time and money to attend a concert probably with world class musicians-take a little time beforehand to acquaint yourself with the works on the program-or at least observe carefully the conductor-or the soloist-you will spare the artists and your fellow audience members a distracting jolt to their concentration and immersion in the music!!!and you will enhance your own enjoyment wit a little more knowledge of the composers'intentions!!

Nov. 28 2009 07:39 AM
len from BROOKLYN NY

It is bad enough to listen to all the coughing and other bodily sounds emanating from audience members and to have the clapping of hands and yelling out as well, is just intolerable.
Not only is it selfish and self-indulgent, it is both invasive and rude.
this has nothing to do with sophistication but everything to do with decency and concern for others.
selfishness and offensiveness should be left at home and not brought into the public arena, whether at a concert hall, a
legitimate theatre or an opera house.
People who scream out should be ejected, the way a person who refuses to pay his bill in a restaurant or causes a scene.
Applause should be kept to a minimum,done in a reasonable manner,with no shouting, and never during the performance.
It is the responsibility of the audience member to know in advance,the various sections of the pieces to be played and to show respect for the performers as well as the other audience members.

All one has to do is go to Yankee Stadium or a rock concert to experience just how abusive and out of control people can be while observing a performance.
And certain opera fans who boo and scream insults should also not be tolerated. Cell phones are to be turned off and so should audience members.
Just go to see a movie and listen to people taking calls and talking to callers while you are watching the film.
We have to listen to people all the time talking on cell phones in public places now, sometimes yelling and cursing as if nobody else were there.
This is gross behavior and it is commonplace. People listening to a concerto. a symphony, a sonata or quartet should be above that and generally are,thank god.But if it gets as bad in the concert hall as it is in the street,the movie house,the subway and bus,the office,etc.etc.etc. JUST STAY HOME!

How low do we have to go. Is there no place left where people are required to act their best, not their worst? At least Pres.Obama asks out loud what is proper
and seeks to be "politically correct." No surprise there.

Nov. 28 2009 07:13 AM
Michael Meltzer

Ninety comments and no one has solved poor President Obama's problem. It is safe to tell President Obama that most musicians will consider being invited to play in the White House, in itself, applause enough!

Nov. 28 2009 04:53 AM
rayna from West Orange, NJ

I find it very disruptive when people applaud between movements; it interrupts the flow and the mood of the music, whether contemplative or joyful.

Please,please, people - wait till the end. Je suis d'accord avec Françoise:

Nov. 26 2009 10:46 AM
Patrick Steele from Rowayton, CT

Applause, whenever it comes, surely is better than none at all?

Several years ago I attended a conference of Moderators of the denomination we attend. One lady told us that one of the two biggest problems she had with her congregation was that at the end of the service, when the organist played, member of the congregation would remain in the seats and listen - and then they would applaud. And she saw that as a "problem'!

I won't even tell you what the other problem was!

Nov. 25 2009 09:22 AM
Francoise from Paris

Oui, je pense qu'il est préférable d'attendre et d'applaudir à la fin.

(I think at the end is best to applaud.)

Françoise, Paris

Nov. 23 2009 11:04 AM
Lee from Nanuet, NY

This has been a very stimulating discussion. Thank you, Elliott, for getting it started.
I myself prefer holding applause until the end of a multi-movement work, if only for the sake of the conductor or musicians who, I believe, expect there not to be applause between movements. I wonder if unexpected applause breaks their concentration on the music, in the same way applause after an operatic aria, though perhaps anticipated, shifts the focus of the conductor, the musicians and the singers from the music to the audience—will it be brief, will it go on at length, and should the music continue only when the last clap has been heard? Granted that in the opera house these issues have been dealt with for years, but still the shift in focus must occur each and every time the audience breaks out in applause or, worse, cheers. The same surely applies to the concert stage, where the conductor must await the return of audience silence, not to say decorum. The conductor gives an interpretation to a work expecting it to be as continuous as he/she sees fit; having the audience applaud changes that interpretation.

Nov. 23 2009 09:44 AM
Irene from Queens, NY

Dear Mr. Forrest: This is indeed a profound question! But I'm excited that the topic is on the table. Tradition taught us not to applaud between movements. But emotionally there are times you want to burst out with delight upon hearing virtuosity, a favorite passage or for the shear thrill of hearing something new and exciting. I feel applause should be permited.

Nov. 22 2009 08:51 PM
David Yurick

Last Sunday at the 92nd St. Y I heard a mezzo soprano (I believe her last name was de Young) who sang three lieder selections (Brahms, Dvorak & Strauss). The Brahms consisted of 2 songs with viola accompaniment, the Dvorak seven Gypsy songs, and the Strauss I believe four songs. There seeemed to be an uncomfortable hesitation between each song in each cycle regarding whether to applaud. I'd like to know, what is considered approriate - applause after each song, or only at the end of the cycle.

Thanks for any info.

Nov. 22 2009 06:35 PM
EL from NJ

I find it jarring when people applaud between each movement of a piece. The silence after a movement allows me to take in what I have just heard and prepare for the music to come. I'm in favor of applause at the end of a piece, whether symphony, concerto, etc. And I think most concert-goers are aware of this convention. On the other hand, applause after a particularly rousing movement is fine.

Nov. 22 2009 05:31 PM
Robert Jones

I am a relative novice to classical music, having had no significant musical training and having grown up on rock and switched my listening to mainly classical about 10 years ago, as I got into middle-age.
I would like to cast my vote for doing away with applause altogether. I feel all that clapping tends to drive the music out of my head, whether at the end of a movement or of the entire performance, impairing my ability to absorb and digest the music. That clapping is for me one reason I make it to very few concerts, and mainly stick with radio and CDs.
It occurs to me that (should there be others who share my feelings on this) perhaps the audience could be asked to show their appreciation for a particularly good performance by donating a couple of bucks to a classical music institution of some sort, in lieu of clapping.

Nov. 22 2009 01:38 PM
Michael Meltzer

First of all, in view of current shrinking audiences, it would be a great tragedy for all of us if part of the reason for potential new concertgoers to back off is a fear of embarrassing themselves and somehow looking stupid. I am 71, and sometimes when I attend a concert I seem to be the youngest one there.
There are times when applause makes the audience feel like part of the performance (good) and times when applause is disruptive to the mood in the hall and the musicians' concentration (bad).
In the Beethoven ninth, the chorus is brought on stage before the third movement, not before the fourth when they are to sing, not to disrupt the meditative and pregnant silence between 3 & 4, or dissipate the drama of the opening of the finale. Applause here is a no-no.
This is an artistic decision, and all artistic decisions have to be left to the conductor, the one person who has to answer for why it was a good concert or not.
How this is to be worked out is another discussion, certainly the program can be helpful with strategic caveats.
Whatever will encourage newcomers to the live concert scene has to be put in place, and pretty quickly at that or we're just not going to have a live concert scene.

Nov. 22 2009 12:03 PM
F.W. Mitchell. from New York City.

Elliot, I applaud you for bringing up this discussion. I have often wanted to cheer and applaud after a particularly moving movement, but always have felt constrained by what I assumed was conventional "good manners" to remain silent until the end of the piece. I am of two minds now that you tell me that the historical convention in the 18th and 19th century was to applaud after each movement..and was expected. I also think that the silence between movements of a piece is gives one a chance to revel in and absorb fully what you have just heard., let's say, a song recital, It makes me crazy to not feel it ok to applaud after a wonderfully sung or played single piece. Having said all that., my opinion would be to play it by ear, and if one is moved to applaud and show appreciation, then do so...unless you feel that it is disruptive to the entirety of the piece. I alson would like to add my voice to those who destest the rudeness of some audience members who grab coats and run up the aisle the minute the conductor puts his baton down. It is rude to the perfomers ,and disruptive to the other audience members who want to show their appreciation............One subject not mentioned..if one should ever boo, and when. I have never booed (sp?) in all my concert going years until the opening night of the Met's new production of Tosca.......and then I felt honor bound and compelled to show my disappreciation, and disgust at a hugely wrong production as did thousands of others. I booed and felt justified in that one instance...Perhaps others have an opinion about that "other side" of the applause question.

Nov. 22 2009 11:56 AM
Karen from Pleasantville, NY

I believe that when the conductor lowers his shoulders and wipes his brow it is time to applaud. I believe that the performers are trained to understand that also. I also believe in standing for the Hallelujah Chorus, but that is a whole other blog I'm sure! And kudos and a huge round of applause to ec and S. Wilkinson above who refer to the "cacophony of coughing and restless shuffling" between movements (applause might be preferable!) and the audience rushing out before the last note is sounded to what - get the first taxi? the first parking attendent? Is getting home ten minutes later really worth trampling the audience and so thoroughly disrespecting the performers?

I rather resent the implications above that my stand makes me a snob, or worse, a "bitter old fart." Au contraire! I am just someone who loves a beautiful piece of music and learned, through trial and error, the "rules" of the concert hall (and went on to teach my children those rules and am currently instilling them in the eight year old triplets across the street!) I am saddened that we have become such an ego-centric nation of people that we feel we no longer have to play by the rules or observe tradition. In every aspect of life - not just the concert hall - it is all about what "I" want to do. A sorry state of affairs to my way of looking at it.

I will continue to wait for the conductor's cue that it is time for me to applaud - they have become pretty good at that over the years. I think some of the suggestions above might have a great deal of merit; blurbs in programs or announcements prior to performances educating the likes of our president who are unsure of the proper etiquette (dare I use that word?).

While I do believe in the occasional spontaneous thunderous applause in appreciation of a particularly thunderous piece of music - which I believe the performers and conductors also believe in - I also believe in rules and appreciate tradition. Thanks for letting me get that off my computer!

Nov. 22 2009 11:47 AM
WinterBV from Asbury Park NJ

I agree with you, Elliott. I was raised on classical music (my little Italian Nona took me to the Met every season) and jazz (the influence of my father and my grandfather).

I believe that, if you are moved, you are MOVED!

Most performers, I think, would agree - but I'd like to see the results of that survey.

Nov. 22 2009 11:40 AM
jane from Forest Hills, NY

There is no policy about when or when not to applaud during a performance. To control when and how an audience member decides to clap would indeed be absurd. Rather focus on the experience of an artist's expression and the effect his artistry has on others.

Nov. 22 2009 11:36 AM
Deborah Voigt

Hi Elliott! Enjoying listening to you this gorgeous morning.

As a performer I can say that WE don't mind applause no matter WHEN it happens!

But those people who leave the minute that last note plays....we can SEE you leaving from the stage, and it isn't a nice feeling! We have sung/played our hearts out for you. Wait five minutes before grabbing your coat and running!!

Deb xo

Nov. 22 2009 11:30 AM
Will from NYC

I guess I'm neutral on applause between movements of a symphony but think it a definite No at a Lieder recital, like Schubert's Winterreise. There clapping between songs interrupts the concentration of both singer and audience can ruin the experience, and I'd say the same about choral pieces like Messiah or the B Minor Mass.

Nov. 22 2009 11:16 AM

I really like this discussion so much that I recently updated my Facebook status with "writing on WQXR Elliott Forrest's Blog, To Applaud or not to Applaud, What do you think?" I hope my friends become more interested in Classical music.
I am enjoying reading your listener's well thought out comments. Thank you for the topic!

Nov. 22 2009 11:15 AM
Serge Ledan from Queens, NY

My name is Serge Ledan. I am already a sustaining member of WQXR. I decided to do since the move, understanding full well that we don't have the support of the Times anymore.
Here are my two cents on the issue: Applauding between movements reflects not only bad taste but also indicates a near total ignorance of the piece being performed on. If one is ignorant of a piece, that's fine and it is an excellent way to learn but, at least, have the decency and the restraint to wait awhile before making a fool of yourself.

Nov. 22 2009 11:11 AM

Nice question!

You're "not supposed to" applaud between movements of a symphony or other instrumental music, but it's normal to applaud almost any time within an opera.

It must be strange for James Levine, for instance, to go from one "supposed to" to the other depending on where he's conducting: opera or concert hall.

The real funny thing is that the orchestra, the audience, and sometimes even the music may be the same.

Some of the difference may be due to differences in the nature of the music, but probably it's mostly just history and convention: how it grew.

Nov. 22 2009 10:52 AM
max norat from Manhattan

Hey Elliot, thanks for the "shout out" and just for that I'm going to contribute $25 to the station to help support you on the air. I challenge every Forrest Fan and anyone with an opinion to do the same!!! Elliot you're destined to be a Big Time Rainmaker for our beloved QXR. Thanks. Max
PS where do I send the check?

Nov. 22 2009 10:52 AM

I suppose I'm a purist; I love the silence between movements. Changing this might even bring about single-movement performances etc which would alter the work as the composer originally intended. There is music in the air between each movement!

Nov. 22 2009 10:38 AM
ec from queens
More Alex Ross

At a concert a few years back featured composer John Adams' music

The crowd was young and at the end of each piece there was polite applause.

Maybe they came because of Adams' reputation for being hip. Or maybe they just came to see Leila Josefowicz play Adams' violin concerto.

After a moderately paced movement, the young group broke out into spontaneous, but "quiet" applause."

What happened? The concert was a disaster.

Adams turned around and yelled "You idiots!" Josefowicz added, "Never come to any of my performances ever again!"

Just kidding.

What happened is they turned at looked at each other, quietly smiled at one another and launched into the next movement.

My reading of that interaction, "It's nice, the audience liked and got the movment."

If there a general suggestion to be made, and I'm not really even for what I'm writing but if had to list a suggestion:

Fast or loud virtuosic movements: If you want applause your fanny off

Slow, detailed movements: Silence may allow the audience to absorb and linger in the moment.

Medium paced movements: To be determined by audience.

Nov. 22 2009 10:32 AM
S Wilkinson from New York City

Please excuse my grammatical errors..
they're and their.
and the word somewhat instead of someone.

I just re-read my comment... and I'm duly embarrassed. LOL

Nov. 22 2009 10:12 AM
S Wilkinson from New York

I'm 24, and I play the cello.
I generally do not like an applause between movements, whether I'm in the audience or when I'm playing.

There is a wonderful magic in the silence after each movement; time to allow the piece to deliver something to my mind and also to my spirit. You can call it the passion for the art just performed. I don't know what you call it.

Other people in this blog mentioned the rush for applauding after the final note. Sometimes there is so much energy built up that an immediate reaction is hard to control, but I do like the final note to linger and fulfill the magic as somewhat said this earlier.

I must not let this opportunity go by without mentioning more about the end of the concert. Picture for yourselves how the last note has been played and there is a wonderful gratitude in the applause between musicians and listeners (in both directions). Now the whole thing very often gets tarnished and obscured by all of those silhouettes of purses, overcoats and people who have consumed the energy but now are dashing it aside, rushing for the exit. They can't wait like everyone else, but somehow they think they're next commitment, whatever it is, is far more important and justifies them to run through other patrons and interrupt that special jubilant applause and interaction with the conductor and the musicians in the orchestra. That wonderful energy is all part of a live performance. The rushing exit is selfish, narcissistic and self absorbed. There, now. I needed to get that off my chest... and off my cello.


Nov. 22 2009 10:06 AM
Robert from Manhattan, NYC


A survey would inform of, and definitely not dictate, performers' preferences.

A 'survey' of some performers, of course; 'some' performers,

unless we could take a 'consensus' of all performers, and that is incomprehensible.

Yes, different performers prefer different responses, different performing groups prefer yet again, different responses.

There could result an informed general position that might enlighten those who attend regularly and perhaps be a useful tool for those who attend performances rarely.

Those hoots and inappropriate Bravo's might be minimized; the talking, ringing cell phones and other devices, well, that's just often plain rude. No reminder or intelligent discussion will stop rudeness.

Information on how best and when to respond, well, that could become a paragraph or two in the PlayBill, or serve as a topic of suggested conversation during intermission.

Though, as indicated, not my original idea, a survey of what performers prefer is what I shall informally do from here on out, among my friends who are classical musicians.

And apply accordingly.

The reasoning is I wish not to conform to audience preferences, which are most likely uninformed, but to the performers preference, so as to not throw a performer off while performing. Akin to being sensitive to a friend or lover's preference, as the audience is in relationship with the performer for that performance.

What one opera star prefers a ballet performer may prefer something else, understood! Or a classical soloist, for that matter. Viva la difference!

That's how these thing start: with a great topic that you, Elliot, have provided for open, thoughtful, discussion.

If nothing else you got us thinking.

Thank you.

Nov. 22 2009 09:47 AM
STOOMZEE from Northport, NY


Maybe you should set up a (sequel) BLOG PAGE specifically for performers - (opera, musicians, conductors, etc.) to answer this question:

A survey of the musicians with their opinions and consensus on this question!


Nov. 22 2009 09:47 AM
ec from queens
Former Wall Street Journal Writer and blogger Greg Sandow
Blogger Henry Fogel
Pittsburgh Gazette writer Andrew Druckenbrod
Wall Street Journal writer Terry Teachout

More links on the applause issue

Emmanuel Ax makes an interesting point about trusting the audience's instinct of when to clap.

Not only do I favor applause, but at the completion of an entire piece that has been poorly performed I'm for booing, whistling or silence.

This was part of the composer/interaction that has been documented for so long.

For me the concert hall isn't a quasi-church.

People who think applause breaks the concentration of the performer should attend the
Apollo Theater's amateur night to be disabused of that notion.

For example Bartok concerto for orchestra 2nd movement with all the solos-- applause. Messiaen's 3rd movement in Quatuor por la fin du temps "Abyss of the birds--perhaps silence would be more appropriate.

I'm of the opinion on erring on the side of choice-- no surveying of the musicians necessary.

Nov. 22 2009 09:47 AM
max norat from manhattan

I'm not a blogg hound but you really got a lively conversation going. I propose you get a venue and invite all of us to a fundraiser for WQXR. You can invite one brave artist to play two movements of great piece of music. Then, like in the old days, we the audience, will decide how to show our appreciation. I think back then it was done by throwing rotten fruits and vegatables at the stage and then good'ol riot afterwards. That will put QXR back on the map and perhaps set an old new trend in music appreciation. And you, Elliot Forrest, would be totally responsible. Great fun!!!

Nov. 22 2009 09:22 AM
John G.

I have listened to classical music for more than the last 60 years (I am 68). As I do not have any formal classical music training I cannot say what makes a musical form what it is (symphony vs suite, eg Brahms). So I am not sure when to applaud and have generrally waited to the end of the piece or when the conductor seemed to indicate when it was proper to show appreciation.
Some movements of various works lend themselves to applause - the third movement of Tchaikovski's 6th symphony comes to mind. Originally operas were organized as "numbers" and lend themselves to applause. But contemporary operas have continuous music and the "number" concept has disappeared - think Verdi's Falstaff. In these cases I believe it is wrong to applaud.
The main reason I am writing this is to voice my pet peeve about when to applaud. I am infuriated when members of the audience begin to clap when the curtain begins to descend but the orchestra is still playing. The opera hasn't really ended. It happens at the Met but I have seen it in other houses. I firmly believe this is the wrong time and is disrespectful to the Orchestra and conductor who have also been performing and are equally important as those on stage.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to express my opinion and I have always enjoyed your work - on NCN as well as the old QXR.
John G. Staten Island

Nov. 22 2009 08:49 AM
Robert J. Lafayette Ph.D. from Manhattan, NYC

Apologies to Stoomzee.

It would be interesting to take a survey of all the musicians and get their opinions and consensus on this question!

Let the survey begin.


Nov. 22 2009 08:40 AM
STOOMZEE from Northport, NY

Hi Robert, PhD,

I agree with a survey and I mentioned the same idea yesterday on this blog.

Perhaps an ONLINE survey would be the way to go with this?

This way the performers could answer some basic questions at their convenience and they could also right their own comments (via an email type form (questioner) or on a blog such as this one)?

Northport, NY

Nov. 22 2009 08:27 AM
Robert Lafayette, PhD from Manhattan, NYC

Great topic.

As an avid fan of music, classical music mostly, I have often thought which is the most appropriate way of showing appreciation to performers, and when to applaud.

When living on a tiny island south of Sicily called Gozo (from 2001 to 2007) where among only 26,000 residents there were annually five or six full operas and many other classical music performances held between the two competing opera houses, there was confusion there, also, after or during a performance, whereby many of the locals and regulars had a certain way of applause and recognition, which differed from foreigners and tourists, that showed there was a diverse audience method of applause, and there was probably a preferred performers response.

A performers' preferred response, which no one seems to take into consideration.

Nowadays, I live in Manhattan (native born Manhattan), and attend as many performances as possible.

Have been attending classical performances since the early 1960s, and probably earlier, as I was born in the late 1940s. I even played in Avery Fischer Hall with my high school band in 1964 (or was it 1965?). Power Memorial Academy (formerly located on 61st Street) was the first high school band allowed to play in Lincoln Center.

So when to applaud and shout Bravo, when when not to?

How about we conduct a survey of what works best for the performers, rather than theorize what works for the audience?

If there is no literature on this subject, why not create some?

This is a perfect subject for a fledgling student of music, wouldn't you agree?

Asking performers and the conductors when they feel most comfortable to receive our appreciation, is to me the only way to determine what works best, what causes least confusion among fans and performers alike.

We are there to appreciate the performance or the performers, are we not?,

So why not ask them, conductors and performers, and publish the results?

What with Julliard, and the Manhattan School of Music and other highly rated institutions of higher music learning in NYC, and with so many listeners who may be music professors and or high level students we ought to be able to get one volunteer, or a few volunteers to conduct this survey.

As an anthropologist, I'd be only too happy to participate in the development and/ or oversight of this effort.


As confused as any person who attends a performance, who applauds usually when a performance, a full performance, is complete, (and have been known to applaud when an especially difficult aria or piece is performed --only when other audience members start first, I must admit),

I am,

Nov. 22 2009 08:04 AM
ec from queens

You can find an informally researched history of applause during performances by the New Yorker's Alex Ross at these links.

Applause is fine when the movement
warrants it. As an example, take the Grieg piano concerto 1st movement with the huge cadenza and sweeping finish.

After all that, current day concert etiquette calls for a cacophony of coughs and restless seat shuffling.

Ah, civilization...

Nov. 22 2009 12:04 AM
Alan Metz from new york city

I rarely applaud before the end of the piece and would never applaud after an adagio, but there are orchestral, chamber and operatic performances, even solos that are so brilliant and exciting that I think it's acceptable for the audience to spontaneously express its joy and excitement.

Nov. 21 2009 11:14 PM
Mark D from Brooklyn

I, for one, do not applaud between movements but I don't mind if audience members do. In my experience if the ending is vigorous then the better the chance of applause. Several years ago I attended a NY Philharmonic concert with David Robertson conducting. After the first movement of Beethoven's 8th symphony (which ends quietly) there was a smattering of applause. Robertson turned to the audience and cheekily said that usually there is no applause after a quiet ending. There was a smattering of laughter. I was one of the audience members laughing.

Nov. 21 2009 08:58 PM
Richard Attanasio

If I pay real dollars to listen to professional performers exercise expensive instruments to produce excellent rare sounds, I most certainly don't want to listen to non-professionals expressing themselves. Real appreciation, contained until the end of the piece, can be more energetic for that. Interruption during the piece is simply narcissistic and immature on the part of the noise maker.

Nov. 21 2009 08:20 PM
Frank Feldman

Applause is fine, whenever. What isn't fine is jumping down the throat of the piece, not waiting for the final sounds to evaporate into the silence from which music springs in the first place.

Nov. 21 2009 05:26 PM
Richard S Mitnick from Highland Park, New Jersey


You are the champion comment getter. And, most of your listeners seem to be nice people.

Nov. 21 2009 05:20 PM
Dwight Collin

I do not mind applause, whenever, but I detest the "bravo guys," anytime and everytime.

Nov. 21 2009 03:16 PM
Kevin Brown

Actually, I've found that sometimes applause between movements makes the entire performance more cohesive, like the interstitial frosting in a layer cake. I'd think as far as it's OK for the musicians to fidget or take a breath, it would be OK for the audience to applaud if so inspired. A little scattered applause or even muted cheering can't be any more disruptive of aethetic appreciation and continuity than the tiresome tuning, loose bow-hair snapping and other musician-ly fidgeting that often occurs between movements.

Nov. 21 2009 12:53 PM
M Ward

I don't like applause between movements, and I am especially annoyed by applause that interrupts the final notes of a piece. There is something magical about sitting in a large auditorium with hundreds of people and hearing those last notes hang in the air, and trail off into a brief silence before the applause breaks out. And although I know performers love applause, I bet they appreciate the magic they create in those nanoseconds of silence, too. I’m all in favor of raucous applause for a great performance, but once the applause starts, that magic spell is broken.

Nov. 21 2009 12:24 PM
LIZA from New York

Applauding between movements breaks the mood of the listeners and perhaps of the musicians. Perhaps the musicians get distracted by comparing yesterday's applause with today's applause and wonder if they did not play as well. Also, it is intrusive to those who would prefer to retain the memory of the last notes, not a thunderous clapping ,. If one has to ask, should I applaud or not, that is a rule also, trying to appear more knowlegeable than one is. A classical music concert is not meant to be a place to express emotion. It is more for reaching into one's quiet soul. The wish to express one's feelings at the expense of other's need for quiet is just another demonstration of the current "Me,Me, Me" narcissism syndrome now so prevalent in this city. It is not a rock concert which is also wonderful but different. It is not the restraining of emotion that keeps young people away, if indeed that is true. Perhaps parents should have taught them early that they can't always do what they want at the expense of others so they can't cope with any restraint.

Nov. 21 2009 12:21 PM
David from Brooklyn

Couldn't agree more, RS. Though I support showing enthusiasm whenever it's warranted, all grownups can sit on our hands just a FEW seconds to make sure we're not wrecking the finale for someone else.

Nov. 21 2009 12:20 PM
Bill Cotter from

I have ambivalent. I would prefer no applause between movements or sections. To me, it breaks the spell. However, applause after an aria, somehow, does not break the spell--but enhances the moment. It's very interesting your asking musicians how they feel. It would also be interesting to ask conductors. By the way--and please pass this on to whomever is responsible--the new progamming is super. I very much like the various combinations of scheduling works--connected and not-so connected. It has given the old WQXR a shot of adrenalin. Also, thanks for continuing the broadcasts of The Met--and for the unusual scheduling of stuff at 1 p.m.

Nov. 21 2009 12:17 PM
RS from nyc

Haven't seen much in support of simple case-by-case common sense here yet -- like, how it may be fine and natural for an audience to let off steam and show appreciation after a show-boaty Saint-Saens movement but maybe not to disturb the heavenly calm between movements of the Schubert cello quintet. My personal pet peeve, however, is the Anticipatory Clapper (a subject already touched on by someone talking about the "Bravo Guy" -- hear, hear!), who seems to see it as his appointed task to ensure that we never get to hear the last notes of any opera act with a quiet close -- e.g., Act 1 of Otello. Has anyone ever heard these notes anywhere except on a recording, at home? Never in the theater, I'd guess, where the Bravo Guys and over-eager applauders make sure that their approval is registered vital seconds before the act is in fact over, spoiling it for those of us who might -- perverse as it may seem -- prefer to hear the music to their shows of preemptive, exhibitionistic "connoisseurship."

Nov. 21 2009 12:14 PM
Ann from New York

To me, a multi-movement piece is an emotional ride - applause ruins all that.

Nov. 21 2009 11:53 AM
David from Brooklyn

From a previous comment: "I don't believe it should be up to the audience to decide when to applaud."
What are we, children? The performance is FOR us. However great they are, artists need (and, I would hope, respect) their audience. Don't we get to decide when we're pleased, or not?

Joshua Bell busking outside a subway stop, if nobody stops to listen, is just a guy with a violin.

Nov. 21 2009 11:50 AM
JK Evans from Hackensack, NJ

While I acknowledge it appears snobbish and stuffy to insist on quiet at the end of a movement and holding applause to the end, there are aesthetic arguments for reserving appreciation until a piece is finished. For the same reason I find it unsatisfying when a single movement out of a larger work is played on the radio. The concert-going public is so used to quiet [or coughing] between movements that it is jarring when someone claps - "it's not finished!", you say. Intellectually, it is rewarding to hear works in their entirety with only a pause for movements to signal change of mood, tempo, key etc, since classical compositions such as symphonies and sonatas follow a fairly formal and balanced structure. As well, the performer or orchestra shows the audience a hopefully polished performance through all the work's different compositional approaches. Above all, it requires patience, something we have little time for in our hurried existence.

Nov. 21 2009 11:48 AM
Conway from East Rutherford, NJ

Hey Elliot ~ Been a listener/fan of yours forever. This applause point has been a problem for me for many years. It's most tempting to applaud right after the stirring march movement of Tchaikovsky's 6th (Pathetique) Symphony. And from what I've observed, most audiences agree with me on that particular piece. You just want to EXPLODE into applause and cheering after such exciting music!
Keep up the great work.

Nov. 21 2009 11:43 AM
Jerome Zornesky

Applause is feedback from an audience that denotes a certain level of satisfaction and pleasure. I don't believe it should be up to the audience to decide when to applaud. I would love to see each individual performance preceded by a statement from the performers indicating whether they would prefer the audience to applaud after each movement or wait until the end of the entire work.

Nov. 21 2009 11:36 AM
David from Brooklyn

Repressing our emotion in the name of good decorum is an idea that comes from people wanting to appear well bred. It's not classical -- it's classist -- music as social elevation. That kind of thinking is part of what has turned classical music into a museum piece, and turns younger people off. Is expressing excitement and pleasure rude to the musician, or the composer? Is a symphony really such a delicate flower that it can't stand a pause between movements?

That said, you know what's totally lame? The obligation to applaud in jazz. You hear people half-heartedly putting their hands together after every single solo, whether it's inspiring or not.
Whatever the music, let's have more spirit, and less social convention.

Nov. 21 2009 11:36 AM
marianne from hudson heights

Dear Elliot,
So wonderful that you are on the new WQXR. I mentally applaud everytime I hear your voice.

When I'm at a concert, I'm often disconcerted by people waving their arms as they conduct the music, applauding before the last notes fade, taping their hands on their thighs, etc, and applauding between movements.

I go to concerts to hear the music and artists, not to express myself. The fact that I bought the ticket and travelled to the concert hall is the first expression of my appreciation and perhaps the most important.

Applause at the end of a piece, which will not disconcert or subtract from another audience member's pleasure, is fine with me.

I've been to concerts in Europe and the Far East as well as here in New York (more than 40 last year). Applause between movements is usually very sparse, and stops almost immediately. One gets the feeling that the people applauding don't know the piece.

I feel that good manners and concern for others in the audience should dictate our behavior.

So please, concert-goers, spare us your need to "let it all out" and wait like the grown-ups to applaud at the end.

Nov. 21 2009 11:18 AM
Craig Morris from Miami, FL

The applause issue is one that I have actually been thinking about a lot lately. I am a professional musician and teacher (trumpet professor at the University of Miami, former principal trumpet in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) and as I think across my performing career I can see both sides of this issue quite easily.

The point that a multi-movement work needs to be allowed to be heard as a whole and not interrupted by applause is certainly valid. At the same time, I hate having people feel as if they can't express their excitement and appreciation of a performance that has really moved them. I worry that we turn audiences away with our rigid rules. To me it is more important to have people enjoy their experience at the concert hall and to get them to come back -- giving the music validity and vitality -- than to hold to a specific set of rules.

I recently heard a factoid that Chopin was disappointed that the audience applause after the first movement of one of his concerto premieres was not as enthusiastic as he had hoped. Apparently, it was customary at that time for the audience to applaud between movements. Perhaps a necessary first step in resolving this issue is to see where these rules come from. That would probably shed a lot of light on their validity.

Nov. 21 2009 11:16 AM
Steve Carlsen from Rockaway, NJ

I believe that the audience should key in on the conductor. If he leaves his hands raised and gives an indication that another monvement is to follow, I would not applaud. However, If he lowers his hands or makes any indication that the piece is over, then I definitely would (with gusto).

Nov. 21 2009 11:07 AM
Linda Campbell from New York City

I personally think it is abhorrent to interrupt the musicians within the spirit and context of the given piece, One thing that always strikes me in Europe and Russia et al is that the audiences save its voluble appreciation to the end. I hope that Americans will subscribe to this format to appreciate the nuances as well. Hopefully people have a genuine appreciation to generate the reason for this respect.

Nov. 21 2009 11:05 AM


I have been attending concerts for 20 years, and I was about 20 years old at the time. Having never been to a Classical concert before with my parents, I decided to discover them alone.
As I did, I always followed the audience and soon realized when it was appropriate to clap. Last night at Avery Fisher Hall, the audience clapped after every movement of Beethoven's 9th..
I thought it was so strange, after all New Yorkers are usually the toughest crowds to please..
I explain to my children when I take them the "rules".. If we did not have the breaks from clapping how would we be able to cough and clear our throats during movements.. I do follow the rules and it seems to me from travelling in Europe and attending many concerts, they follow the rules as well....

Nov. 21 2009 10:53 AM
Kevin Brown

There doesn't seem to be much point in having public concerts if the audience can't respond according to their impressions rather than according to extremely tight and limiting rules. Certainly it's not polite to interrupt someone mid-sentence, so to speak, but by the same token, it would be rather presumptuous of musicians to assert that they should absolutely never be interrupted.
Frankly, although one does feel somewhat awkward when one or a few people applaud in the middle of a piece, concerts or recitals are rather depressing when no one applauds, cheers, or otherwise reacts spontaneously - usually at such times, the performances are equally uninspired.
And seriously, if people don't want to participate or even hear the reaction of public audiences, they should avoid public performances; it doesn't work the other way around. People who want to be part of a public audience can't participate from home.

Nov. 21 2009 10:52 AM
Max Norat from manhattan

Elliot you are greatly missed in the afternoons. As to the applauding thing; this goes right the heart of why young audiences don't want attend concert. "The Rules" that come across as a bunch of bitter old farts stinking up the venues with their self-rightous idea of how music can and should be enjoyed. The fact is that wether one applauds or not depends on the circustances. In fact there are many people who don't know about these rules. It took me a while to catch on. What I suggest is that the artist or MC make a request at the top of the program and explain a bit about why the piece works better if audience allows for silence between movements. It's called courteous education and audience appreciate it. By the way I agree about the Bravo Guy but I vote to have him shot on the spot! That should dissuade some people. Great Fun and come to us on weekday afternoons. You remind me so much of the great Lloyd Moss. All the best.

Nov. 21 2009 10:22 AM
gertrud Borchardt from Hoboken, NJ

I am often quite moved by a piece and would feel compelled to applaud, except for the fact that I know it's not proper. If I felt the musicians did not mind, or in fact, appreciated an applause interruption, I would feel totally comfortable doing it. I guess my reluctance stems from not wanting to annoy the musicians.

Nov. 21 2009 10:17 AM
C. C. from NYC

This is more of an observation. When I first started going to concerts, I didn't know much, so I just applauded when everyone else did.
Now I feel, it's appropriate after movements & of course, at the end>

Nov. 21 2009 10:11 AM
susan franks from nyc

it is can be intimidating when you are new to the classical world and not sure when to applaud. however, if you are really listening to the music, it's usually obvious when there's a pause and when it's really time to applaud. applauding between movements or after arias is pretty standard...i think it's okay...and sometimes it's okay to be quiet. i know that's a non committal answer, but music is organic and so it's hard to be black and white about it. sometimes it's good to be quiet and just listen and be in the moment of letting it flow without having to say anything (or do anything). you don't have to show everyone what you think all the time. sometimes, people applaud because there is an emotion that overtakes them and it is an out of body moment- like the performance is so superb you are compelled to respond. it's subtle but one can be mindful of when it's appropriate and when it's all about you.

Nov. 21 2009 10:09 AM
Nadine Gill from New York

I believe one has to lighten up.
My son acted with Frank Langella in A man for all Season's. It is pretty cool when people show their enthusiasm and appreciation during the play for a performance.
My daughter-in-law was in Blithe Spirit. The applause for Angela Lansbury was heart warming.
There is a spontaneous, overwhelming joy one needs to communicate from time to time.
And that is OK.....

Nov. 21 2009 09:53 AM
STOOMZEE from Northport, NY

You have a good point Elliott about Mozart and Beethoven’s time and also that you've spoken to some of the musicians & composers and they don't mind if we clap!

Did you say they like it when we clap?

It would be interesting to take a survey of all the musicians and get their opinions and consensus on this question!

Nov. 21 2009 09:29 AM
Mike Jarosz from Metuchen, NJ

The great divas of opera loved applause. So much so that composers such as Verdi and Puccini inserted pauses after show stopper arias to give the audience a chance to respond!!!! How many times have you sat in the audience waiting to see how long the conductor was going to allow the audience before resuming the beat?

I forget exactly where it occurs, but one of the great arias is noted in the score "no pause". The composer was punishing the singer for excessive temper tantrums during rehearsals by explicitly disallowing applause!

I have always felt that with today's audiences the applause was more for the brilliant composition of say, Un bel di, and less for the hapless soprano who missed the high note.

And then, of course, there are the sets that get applause. Like the great Rosenkavelier set at the Met......

Nov. 21 2009 09:27 AM
Bill Sherman

I think clapping during a performance is more about audience members wanting to be part of the performance than it is about recognition of great playing/singing.

More important, is there any consensus on the part of musicians on what THEY prefer?

Nov. 21 2009 09:09 AM
Bernie Hughes from Bridgewater, NH

You just mentioned the nut who yells bravo/brava just before the last note fades. I have always assumed he is a self-serving egotist who wants the world to know that he knows the selection has ended.

The applause or not issue is indeed, a touchy one. I do not want it in my recorded music. Were I at a concert and had just heard Mahler's Resurrection Symphony, I would be so emotionally taken that I could not applaud.

Nov. 21 2009 09:02 AM
Bart Hopkins from New York City

A live concert does not take place in a vacuum. There is electricity in the air. The muffled coughs and spontaneous clatter add to the tension and excitement of a live performance. When a performer or ensemble complete a movement with virtuosic brilliance, it just seems wrong to sit and acknowledge it with silence. I consider each movement a work unto itself that deserves recognition when performed well. What's wrong with a display of appreciation if the music inspires me to do so?

Nov. 21 2009 08:53 AM
STOOMZEE from Northport, NY

After thinking this over again and reading all the comments, I'm inclined to agree that we should NOT clap or (interrupt) until each piece of music is finished in it's enitirerty! Clapping at the end of a piece is OK I think!

Maybe they should give the audience a box (or have one attached to the seat) so the listeners can register their feelings by turning a dial on this box device (I saw this done on TV shows) and without disturbing anyone you can see the audiences reaction on a video screen which can be displayed on the box itself or high up over the stage.

Instead of voicing your appreciation for the music - you can just move the dial on the box in your lap when you feel inclined to do so and you can also see how the rest of the audience feels about the various parts to a piece of music. I think people would appreciate this if it is done the right way and does not disturb the performance in any way!
Northport, NY

Nov. 21 2009 08:51 AM
Bhaskar Non-applause from USA

Its the worst affront to civilization to applaud during a performance. It does not matter that a member of the audience is moved by a performance because they must understand that there are other people in the concert hall (other listeners and of course, the performers). It is a disservice to these people to disrupt the continuity and their concentration. We must ask ourselves, "What sets Classical Music apart from other forms of entertainment?" Clearly the nature and format of the music is one. Audience behavior is the essential other! I am so annoyed by applause during the performance that nowadays I choose to go to only those classical concerts where I believe that there is a very high probability that the audience will not applaud. I am absolutely incredulous at the number of people who have responded that it is ok to applaud ... I really hope that their paths never cross mine in a concert hall.

Nov. 21 2009 08:20 AM
Steve Gyetko

No, no, no! For God's sake, have we sunk to barbarism in the world of classical music along with the rest of the 'cultural slide'? The music is meant as a whole work! Do you applaude when a baseball player takes his cuts, either ball or strike, before hitting the home run? No! You hang on every pitch, until that sublime moment when he sends the ball into the stands and make his triumphant stride past the bases and stomps gloriously 'home'. Then the house reverbs with the sound of cheers.

It's like those clowns that yap on cell phones or, even worse, talk to the screen at the movies. They just ruin it for the rest of us. My advice for them is "Stay home and listen to classical music on the radio. There's where you can clap your hands raw and leave the rest of us in peace."

Enough already!

Steve Gyetko

Nov. 21 2009 08:13 AM
Jim McGuire


I'm sorry to disagree, but I think a performance is about the performs and not the audiences wishes. The applause should come only after the entire piece has been played. But then I'm old. I stopped going to sock concerts when I could no longer hear the performer singing because the audience, who was singing along, was much louder.

Nov. 21 2009 08:11 AM
Tom Bloom

There is a very good reason not to applaud before the end of a piece, and it isn't stuffy formality: A symphony or chamber piece in movements or variations is conceived as a whole, and a listener can benefit from trying a little harder, because the connection is there, and much more rewarding having found it. We don't applaud to interrupt a play after a stirring speech (at least most realize we shouldn't) because the narrative continues. Preserving the thread of the narrative applies to music in exactly the same way.

Nov. 21 2009 08:11 AM
Gloria A. Bischoff from Brooklyn, New York

I was taught to wait till the end of a piece to applaud. However, there have been times when I was 'new' to the particular piece being played and was unsure of when to show my appreciation. I would wait till the entire audiece dictated and would join in. I concur, let's stop 'sitting on our hands' and applaud when we feel moved. I think it would 'free' people new to listening to classical music to fully enjoy a piece of music rather than sitting there wondering 'when do I applaud', 'how many movements is in this piece', I don't want to do something 'wrong' and applaud at the wrong time.....Just listen, enjoy, free yourself from that crazy 'when to when not applaud' mentality and let the music move you.

Nov. 21 2009 07:48 AM
Scott Rose from Manhattan

Audiences must learn to applaud deafeningly throughout all horrible performances, to drown them out.

Nov. 20 2009 09:57 PM
william pagenkopf from flushing, ny

Sorry I do NOT like applaud interruptions.
It distracts from the continuity, hopefully from most singers, and to quote, "tradition is the last bad performance,"
As a pianist its equivalent to appauding after a Sonata movement.
As to some performances I tell people it only encourages the artist!

Nov. 20 2009 09:41 PM
June Severino Feldman from NYC

This is kind of like the inclusive language debate in the liberal Protestant church these days. Really, the inclusive language messes with a lot of the poetry of Scripture and certainly with the flow of our most cherished hymn lyrics. But if we don't want to turn young people off and turn them away, how can be blind to the issue? I'm glad Obama brought this to the forefront. I was raised knowing exactly when it is 'proper' to applaud in the concert hall and am still never sure I've got it right - it's an uncomfortable feeling.
Perhaps the performers can instruct the audience as to their preference by way of the program or an announcement. Some performers might just want us to be spontaneous!

Nov. 20 2009 07:23 PM
Tscalora from New Jersey

My goodness such priggish and elitist attitudes towards such a wonderful show of appreciation. Is it any wonder that classical music needs to be protected?
I recently made the "unpardonable error" of letting out a loud whistle at the end of a performance and was greeted with such glares that I thought I was to be verbally assaulted as well.

I say loosen up and let your feelings out in between movements.

Nov. 20 2009 02:09 PM
Kurt Daisley from Kew Gardens, NY

The one thing that I haven't seen in the above comments is the convention of applauding after well-performed arias at the opera. It seems to me that the same reasons for waiting until the end of a work to applaud, viz., not wanting to disturb the performer, or disrupt the flow of the music, would apply.

Strangely enough, for this, the loftiest of all classical forms, it doesn't. Why? The answer that I'm coming up with is convention. In some situations, applauding between movements is the convention, and in other situations, it isn't. It's as simple as that.

Nov. 20 2009 01:55 PM
Sidney Goldman from Baldwin, NY 11510

I am sure that the performers, whether a soloist or others who are playing this wonderful music do not appreciate any disruption made by the audience (talking and applauding).

This reaction by the audience, to show their feeling for the performer, to applaud when they want to tell others that the movement just completed deserves their response.

But the performer wants to continue the work since there is more to come for that composition.

Please applaud only after the work is played. You will have ample opportunity to applaud again when the program is completed.

Nov. 20 2009 11:37 AM

As a music student, a person raised in the middle of this debate rather than before it, it is even more confusing for me to pronounce a definite answer on this topic. But, like most things in life, I guess it has to do with rules with exceptions. The thought about the concentration of the performance being broken is certainly true, but some recitalists having to take breaks in order to pace themselves might embrace that. If the first movement ends with a "bang," then I certainly think there is more of an argument for applauding. However, when it is wrongly timed, it can be extremely frustrating. For instance, in a performance in which I was a member of the New York Youth Symphony of Brahms First Symphony, there was moderate amount of applause between the first two movements that broke the mood of Carnegie Hall somewhat. My first reaction was, "Wow, we actually attracted a new audience." However, the first movement ends like a very soft prayer, a resting place but not a completion - something is lost, but soon to be found. And, as many of my colleagues in the orchestra were upset at this, so was I to some extent. This all comes down to the fundamentals of classical music - unlike pop music today, it is a more intellectual and emotional art form that does not serve merely the pleasure of hearing music but of hearing all forms of human existence, and that is why it is seldom heard as elevator music. So in the end, it comes down to how you perceive the magic on stage.

Nov. 20 2009 11:09 AM
Nessa from NYC

Applauding between movements, especially for a soloist, is disruptive and breaks concentration. We are not at football games, after all. The end of a sonata movement is not the end of a quarter, or an inning, or between rounds at a fight. Audiences are getting dumber. They are less experienced and certainly do not know how the interpretation of a piece of music comes to be. They bring DRINKS into Carnegie Hall. The other night at Alice Tully someone next to me had a glass of wine in her hand! They leave cell phones on, cough at key moments and God help them - they HUM! I've been attending concerts since I had to sit on phone books. Please. Listen to the music, appreciate it and learn how it is made. Older doesn't signify stuffy. If you want to applaud when the mood hits you, go to the zoo.

Nov. 20 2009 10:20 AM
STOOMZEE from Northport, NY


I think when attending a classical concert we do so for a combination of purposes - first entertainment and second to stimulate our thinking. Therefore it's OK to clap and express your gratitude, appreciation or satisfaction for any part or movement - after all it's about combining entertainment, appreciation and stimulation - it's a "Show". However I can see both points of view on this to interrupt or not to interrupt. We should keep in mind when we attend these concerts that it is different from listening in privacy, such as home where we can have no interruptions and totally emerge our selfs into the music - enabling us to think, create, ponder in realitively our own space and time, absorbing each movement in sync with our own emotions, thoughts, rhythms and ambitions.

However, I've never been privileged to attend a classical concert (your previous blog) - so I can only speculate based on my love of classical music and the ability it offers me to think, create and imagine, as I've been privileged to do since the time I was born. WQXR - always there and a part of my life. My father was most important and instrumental in introducing me to classical music in my early childhood years. He could play classical music on the piano from his head of his own creation by his own ear with no musical experience. I found that when I listen to classical music - each note becomes embedded in my mind forever - like a piece of film being exposed over and over again, each time I hear it - it's perfected and etched into my memory for ever.

I've noticed for years at UU and long ago at Ethical Culture when people get up to speak or perform a piece of music or recite a poem there seems to be a consensus not to clap or acknowledge your appreciation at any time. Sounds a little like your question about classical music Elliott.

Northport, NY

Nov. 20 2009 12:25 AM
Rich from The Bronx

I agree with Joe about the Tchaikovsky 6th. I once heard Abravanel conduct it with the Utah Symphony and the audience applauded after the 3rd movement. I also recall when Mehta and the NYPO played Paine's 2nd Symphony which had not been heard in years. Ahter 3 of the 4 movements the audience applauded. After the quiet 3rd movement they did not.Mehta jokingly turned to the audience and asked if there was something wrong with the movement.
Lastly I recall reading years ago a biography of Sir John Barbirolli. In it he said he had no objection to it and would at times encouage it.

Nov. 19 2009 05:30 PM
Robin O. from New Jersey

I prefer saving applauding until the end. Because historically audiences interrupted works with applause, it does not mean they had more knowledge or appreciation than we. Generally, isn't it rude to interrupt?

Further, classical music is not structured the way jazz is. Because jazz relies heavily on the improvisation technique and each band member is featured, it follows that each should be rewarded spontaneously at the end of their presentation. When a classical musician is featured in a solo within larger work, I prefer applause for its execution be held until the end so as not to lose the continuity of the composers' ideas. Sometimes that means the end of a movement and sometimes that means the end of the entire work.

Nov. 19 2009 03:41 PM
Bill D from nj

While I am fully trained in the 'don't clap until the end' idea in symphonic and chamber music, I also don't think clapping between movements is such a bad thing. Yes, it can be intrusive, if you take music where a composer maintains a continuing sound between movements, as Mendelsohn and other have done in their works, it could cover the music...

But I think there are a lot of reasons why this as a rigid rule is not a good thing for this form of music. In other forms, including Jazz, people spontaneously applaud something they like, if they get moved to do so, music is a very special form that way. The real reason that clapping is left to the end is because it became an enforced protocol in the 19th century, the same protocol that said orchestra members have to dress like 19th century courtiers, conductors are not to address or acknowledge the audience and a lot of other victorian nonsense. There is a big disconnect with classical music, and it is one of the reasons it has such a bad reputation, especially among younger audiences, all these rules are like going to visit the priggish grandmother whose idea of children was well dressed dolls sitting on the couch.

Given the problems with classical audiences dwindling, of them aging well beyond the 'golden years', maybe we should rethink these rules a bit and realize we don't live in the 19th century, that someone spontaneously applauding at the end of the movement is not akin to committing armed robbery, or a child humming or expressing joy at a concert is a beautiful thing, not a place for glares from people who should know better. If we are going to attract audiences to these performances, young, vibrant ones, then maybe, just maybe we need to bend a little, too, rather then try to force everyone to 'follow the rules' of 19th century decorum.

As Anne Akiko Meyers said in an interview (expletives deleted) "if an audience member wants to applaud, let them!"

Nov. 19 2009 02:10 PM
Joe Scarpelli from Staten Island, NY

I was brought up on the time honored tradition to only appalud at the end of a multi movement piece. However, as a musician I have certain exceptions. One that comes immediately to mind is Tschaikovsky's 6th Symphony. I would much rather receive a rousing applause at the end of the 3rd movement than a polite applause at the end of the 4th.

Nov. 19 2009 12:56 PM
Cleuton Batista from brazil

To applaud is natural circunstance of human being when it is glad. Problem of applaud on music of more than one moviment it isthe breake of atmophere let by composer at end of the first moviment. But we should always respect the human being. Appaluding or neither.

Nov. 19 2009 11:29 AM
JB from NYC

I was raised on the "no applause between movements" concert behavior, but I think if any performance is moving enough, even if it's the rondo in the middle of a three-movement work, an audience should show its appreciation.

I think one of the reasons audiences applaud for everything at a concert nowadays is the same one that causes today's Broadway audiences to jump up and give every play a standing ovation: first, they want everyone else to know how sophisticated they are (sophisticated people at the opera yell "Bravo!" so theatergoers do it too); second, they've paid almost a week's salary for tickets to the performance, and they want to feel they've gotten their money's worth, even if they haven't.

Nov. 19 2009 11:02 AM
gaetano catelli from SoHo

i applaud when a performance, of any sort and at any point, moves me to do so.

Nov. 18 2009 11:07 PM
Nancy de Flon from Metro NY

I'm totally in favor of waiting till the end of a piece to applaud. A symphony, concerto, or sonata is a single piece of music, and an underlying unity of structure connects all the movements. It's not a series or collection of pieces. So please leave the applause for the end.

Nov. 18 2009 08:14 PM

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