Posted by: emanuelax1 | November 14, 2008

When to Applaud

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. Mozart often wrote to his family that certain variations or sections of pieces were so successful that they had to be encored immediately, even without waiting for the entire piece to end.

I really hope we can go back to the feeling that applause should be an emotional response to the music, rather than a regulated social duty. I am always a little taken aback when I hear the first movement of a concerto which is supposed to be full of excitement, passion, and virtuoso display (like the Brahms or Beethoven Concertos), and then hear a rustling of clothing, punctuated by a few coughs; the sheer force of the music calls for a wild audience reaction. On the other hand, sometimes I wish that applause would come just a bit later, when a piece like the Brahms 3rd Symphony comes to an end – it is so beautifully hushed that I feel like holding my breath in the silence of the end. I think that if there were no “rules” about when to applaud, we in the audience would have the right response almost always. Most composers trust their listeners to respond at the right time, and if we feel like expressing approval, we should be allowed to, ANYTIME! Just one favor – even if you don’t like a concert of mine, please PLEASE applaud at the end anyway.

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Responses

  1. I applaud you, Mr. Ax! I just want to thank you for coming to Joplin in January. You have given me the perfect gift for my parents (but I will purchase 3 tickets…someone has to chaperone)

  2. I heard you in Miami. You were wonderful.
    My husband and I have since bought several of your records! We keep listening.
    Thank you for giving us such pleasure.
    Yvette Spencer

  3. I was so so thrilled to hear you play the Szymanowski tonight at Avery Fisher! What a wonderful piece and such a great performance. I only wished I could have heard it twice in a row…But the Burleske was compensation enough!

    Thank you, thank you!
    Alina

  4. Mr. Ax:
    I’m a college music student and I sometimes have been wondering the same thing (And sometimes some of my non-music friends would ask me same question). Why do we have to hold the applause in between movements. If the performer stops, we should applaud right? It wasn’t until I had to perform the Haydn Nelson Mass with the University Choir, when my choir director gave me something to think about this dilemma. My choir director told me that it was expected out of “etiquette” that members of the audience would clap only after the whole mass number was over. I certanly would think that those same rules were set a long time along with the rules of which side of the plate the fork, the knife or the spoon is supposed to be. Simply, rules of etiquette that people would follows after they were set. I don’t know if we follow it in order to appear more sophisticated but it is common practice nowadays. Now, I wouldn’t care about the audience applauding in between movements when I play the piano at my university but I certanly don’t know if I would stand up to bow in between the movements.
    I think I will always applaud after you play Mr. Ax. Your concert at the GMU Center for the Arts on November was really amazing. I felt honored to see you that day. Hope you come to the Northern VA area soon.

    A big fan of yours,

    Julio

  5. Quoting Norwegian violin soloist Arve Tellefsen: “If I hear applause between movements, it means new people are in the hall, and that makes me happy!”

    But the question is: how do you react to applause after a first movement? Do you stand up and bow? If there is applause after a symphony movement, should the orchestra stand up?

    …..I’m looking forward to the day when you get so much applause after a movement that you do like Mozart: repeat it before you go on!

  6. Hi Emanuel -

    Speaking of applauding, don’t you think that you should let folks know you’re an organist too? :)

    For those who want to know, Mr. Ax when he was at Bowdoin Summer Music Camp in the late 60s agreed to sub for a local organist at a Sunday service. The results clearly prefigured his appreciation for slow tempi a la Artur Rubinstein, making singing hymns along with the organ a remarkable test of wind capacity. Moreover, Mr. Ax’s careful avoidance of over-pedalling extended to use of organ foot-pedals, and this along with his aversion to the organ’s switches made the performance a masterfully straightforward one. Listening, I was strongly tempted to applaud when he reached the end of each phrase. It is indeed a pity that he has never favored us with recordings of other creative renderings of organ masterworks.

    Seriously, great blog and all my best – Wayne

  7. Thanks for these sensible words!
    We love listening to the concerto program on ABC Classic FM, Australia on Sunday afternoons.

  8. I liked your recent Brahms in Disney Hall. It was especially good because people didn’t go berserk after the first movement and saved up the appreciation for the end of the piece. (Would it have killed you to have given us an encore?)

    This applause business has taken an odd turn. Those that _don’t_ follow the lead of the rapturous are now the bad guys. And what is it with you and Itzhak Perlman and the applause? He scolded a Florida audience for not clapping hard enough at his Messiaen. And you ask for applause whether we like something or not.

    Some social conventions are good. We’ve all been places where people express themselves freely with no regard for those around them. Put that into the concertgoing experience and I’ll stay home and listen to records.

  9. Please see printed rebuttal of your comments regarding applause

    http://www.berkshireeagle.com/ci_11590398?IADID=Search-www.berkshireeagle.com-www.berkshireeagle.com

  10. I have enjoyed the comments on this issue, but I believe some have missed the point a bit. I don’t think one should compare scolding an audience with Mr. Ax’s note. I have met a lot people who say that one of the reasons they haven’t attended a classical concert is because they are afraid of making an etiquette error. I know others who do go – but are so concerned that they may be moved to inappropriate applause that they are too tense to enjoy the music.

    I agree that applause for applause sake between movements would be disruptive, but when one hears something so profound, so moving that they are urged to express their admiration, their joy – then they should not be made to feel that they don’t belong, nor that they’ve done something wrong.

    There are those who behave poorly at concerts. I have seen texting and even movies being viewed on glowing iPods. Some watches tick loudly. Some people unwrap candy with a vengeance. I have been irked by such things – but never by clapping. I keep in mind that perhaps this is their first concert – and if they enjoyed themselves – perhaps they’ll come again. Classical music, the arts in general, need more patrons in these increasingly barbaric times. If the price is applause between movements, so be it.

  11. Mr. Ax: Your posting prompted me to write on this topic for the Los Angeles Times. It’s up on our culture blog, where more people are engaged on the conversation. Thank you.

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2009/01/classical-music.html

  12. I’m delighted to see an openness on this issue arise, different from the traditional rigidity. I’m a music historian, author of “Great Transformation of Musical Taste,” a book on concert programming from the time of Haydn to Brahms–I find it very hard to tell just when this piece of dogma first developed. What I call “musical idealism” arose in the 1820s, and this idea must have begun among some people around then. But virtuosos like Paderewski remained central to concert life, and I’m sure people applauded after his movements in 1900. I must admit to not wanting to applaud after every number in Walkuere, for example, but there are points when I find it vital to do so. So thanks for leading us, Mr. Ax!

  13. Caught your performance of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 with the LA Phil in January. Superb, I thought, including the thoughtful encore (Chopin, Waltz in a minor).

    I think applause that is a sincere appreciative reaction to a performance would be welcomed by most performers at any appropriate point – which, for classical instrumentalists, would at least include the pauses between movements.

    I wonder how classical musicians would react to the jazz convention of applauding each solo? Too much of a distraction, breaking one’s concentration? Or, “bring it on!”?

    L. Godsey

  14. My father, Cimbro Martin, was a great fan of yours and his last wife, Marion, has just given your name to me. I have been searching for years for students or anything regarding Cimbro. He left my family when I was in my teens. So I lost a lot of years of being with him.

    It is wonderful to hear about you from Marion. I was just wondering if you remember him? I see from your schedule you will be in NYC and Montreal in March and I would love to come and see you and bring my wife, Carol.

    The tap of Cimbro’s life has been opened up finally, and I thank you in advance for your assistance.

    Faithfully Yours,
    Paul Martin

    • Hello Paul

      I was a pupil of your father in the late 1970′s at the Guildhall. If you care to drop me a mail I would be happy to share my memories of him. I can be contacted at andyinindia@yahoo.com and yes, as the address suggests, I live in India. Best Wishes, A.

    • I was a pupil of Cimbro at the Guildhall School during the years 1957-1964
      I would be happy to share my memories of your father with you if you care to contact me via my brother William

      Regards

      Richard Baulch

      • Hello Richard,

        Thank you for this posting. I would love to hear your memories of my father. I do apologize that this is so long in coming. My contact info is: jacktheladltd@yahoo.com

        I look forward to your memories. With Gratitude,

        Cheers,
        Paul Martin

    • I am not responding in relation to Emanuel Ax but because I think you are one of my first cousins as Cimbro Martin was my uncle and I have a number of old photos of him. I do not know a great deal about him because my mother, his sister Ruth, with whom he was at Tobias Matthay’s lost touch in later life. I am still in contact with part of his first family though and even remember visiting you as a small child in Shirley in Surrey. I suppose I am curious, as you are and as one is as one gets older, to know what happened to him and his second family ie you, Carla? and Nicholas.

      • Hello Dearest Cousin,

        Your message comes at just the right time. I apologize for the delay in this reply. I have been searching for you and his first family for over 30 years. I am researching a book about Cimbro and would be ever so happy to be in contact with you. You have pictures also, what a joy. I can also fill you in on what happened to our family. My contact information is: jacktheladltd@yahoo.com

        I await your response with patient eagerness,

        Paul Martin

  15. There was a rumor thrown around during Musical Appreciation back in the ’80s that holding applause can be blamed on Wagner. Or possibly King Ludwig. Perhaps the same social change that led to not hurling vegetables at the theatre.

    I probably saw at least one of your performances when I lived in New York (idiosyncratic concert attendance over a 17 year period).

  16. [...] I’m going to go check out more of Mr. Ax’s blog. (Oh! Here is his first post about applause, so you might want to read that as well. Heck, read the entire [...]

  17. D. is right, since Wagner banned applause at the Bayreuth Festival, though I remember complaints about this before the theater opened in 1876. There’s a bit about this in my book, Wagnerism in European Culture & Politics. I was glad to hear applause between movements for specially brilliant virtuosity at the Academy of Ancient Music concert at Segenstrom Hall on Friday – it made sense in that context. The ensemble, now under good new leadership, seems no longer eager to tell how far back they go – to 1726 (as Academy of Vocal Music) then in 1731 a new title (Academy of Antient Music, with an antiquated ‘t’).

  18. Age is creeping up on me–it was the Concert of Antient Music (London, 1776-1848) that sported the antiquated ‘t’, a series which offered occasional Elizabethan madrigals but no Palestrina, as had the AAM. The Academy met over dinner and I’m sure some of the better wine & port; I suspect people applauded when they wished.

  19. Mr. Ax,

    Thank you very much for the wonderful concert in State College the other night. In the audience, we could certainly felt the moment of triumph; the applause would readily be triggered by somebody’s very first clap. However, I have to agree with you that sometimes silence is preferred by some of us, but not others.

    In other genre of music, such as jazz, the interaction between audience and the performers happens during the music, usually after the solo sections. In popular music, the audience holds nothing back and applause whenever they want to. In most types of Chinese operas, if there is no shouting or applause right after virtuosic phrases, the performers would actually feel discouraged.

    Different (sub-)cultures developed their own code which shapes people’s perception of appropriation. While some are disturbed by such during-the-music noises, some see those as the differentiating characteristics of live music (as opposed to studio recordings).

    I personally find it very fun to have different types of people in the audience. It makes a concert not only a dialogue between the audience and the performer, but among the audience, too.

  20. I was at a Phoenix Symphony for the Schools concert on Wednesday morning & had this EXACT same reaction. The children applauded 5-6 times during “Ride of the Valkyries” that opened the concert (all at appropriate sections!), but by the last piece was completed they had seen graphics on the screen & been shushed enough by adults that all they were doing was wiggling in their seats, even during “Baba Yaga,” which is very evocative music. I immediately wanted to know WHY we classical musicians stifle the immediate & honest emotional response of an audience by NOT allowing them to applaud. Is this, in part, why classical music is often seen as “elitist” & “boring?” I, for one, DO hope that this practice will fall away. It is one that does not need to be kept (even if it DOES “break up the set” as one of my singer-friends commented when I asked this question on Facebook). THANK YOU for helping to bring this more into the limelight.

  21. I remember your wonderful performance of Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto done a number of years ago up in Nashua, NH. The audience applauded between the movements. It made me cringe, but I enjoyed seeing the enthusiasm emanating from the crowd.

    On this past Sunday (June 7, 2009) I attended a piano duo recital sponsored by the Frederick Collection in Ashburnham, MA and performed on their 1877 Erard Extra Grande de Concert. The performance was outstanding, but everyone sat still and coughed and shuffled between each piece until the program section ended. This created quite a bit of tension because the instinct is to want to applaud, but at some times the audience wasn’t sure when it was okay to do so. If they could have applauded between each of the pieces such as the Mother Goose Suite by Ravel, for example, the atmosphere wouldn’t have been as stifled.

  22. [...] Ax has 2 blog postings on the subject “When to Applaud” and “A Few More Thoughts on [...]

  23. [...] emanuelax.wordpress.com/2008/11/14/when-to-applaud I really hope we can go back to the feeling that applause should be an emotional response to the music, rather than a regulated social duty. I am always a little taken aback when I hear the first movement of a concerto which is supposed to be full of excitement, passion, and virtuoso display (like the Brahms or Beethoven Concertos), and then hear a rustling of clothing, punctuated by a few coughs; the sheer force of the music calls for a wild audience reaction. On the other hand, sometimes I wish that applause would come just a bit later, when a piece like the Brahms 3rd Symphony comes to an end – it is so beautifully hushed that I feel like holding my breath in the silence of the end. I think that if there were no “rules” about when to applaud, we in the audience would have the right response almost always. Most composers trust their listeners to respond at the right time, and if we feel like expressing approval, we should be allowed to, ANYTIME! [...]

  24. [...] This seems to be such a touchy question, both on stage and in the hall. You  may get glares from your neighbours if you’re too enthusiastic after the effervescent double octaves finish of a concerto. Some will roll their eyes in dismay. Some performers will make a gesture to recap concentration. But others accept applause for what it is, a sign that the listener is touched. Pianist Emanuel Ax ponders on the subject here… [...]

  25. I watched your splendid performance in the Mendelssohn Piano Trio’s with YoYo Ma and Itzhac Perlman and thank you so much for your gift of music that filled my home that blessed Sunday morning. I will be buying the recording.

  26. I passionately agree with Mr. Ax regarding applause during concerts. I had an experience as a performer many years ago that led me to this passion. As a music teacher in a predominately Latino, farming community I accompanied a student’s performance of the 1st movement of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto. The audience was not there to hear a classical concert, though. They were supporting the talent presentations of the participants in a “Cinco de Mayo Pageant.” Consequently, their reaction to the music was emotional and fresh! Beginning with the first fast passages the audience clapped and yelled their approval. It was a thrilling experience for me and for my student. It changed my opinion of classical performances AND of Mozart!

  27. Mr. Ax,
    When you play the Beethoven G major piano concerto with us in Hartford in a couple of weeks, I hope the audience will be unrestrained in its applause after the first movement!
    –Edward
    http://sansbaton.blogspot.com/2010/09/emmanuel-ax.html

  28. [...] 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….read more on Emanuel Ax’s Official Blog. [...]

  29. Mr. Ax,

    Thank you for coming to Atlanta this weekend to perform with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. It was a pleasure to watch you on stage to an awestruck audience.

    Unfortunately I was seated on the wrong side of the hall and have one (potentially ignorant) question for you. For a whole symphony, do you have the whole piece memorized for the concert? If so, that is very impressive!

    Also, I agree with you regarding the applauses, however, there are situations where some people need a little bit of guidance of when to not disrupt the show.

    Andy

  30. Applause came naturally after the first movement of Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto at the Disney Hall yesterday, as a cabal of your fans reaffirmed your opening-up of this old practice. The performance seemed utterly fresh and spontaneous, making one almost think it was a first time. Thank you!
    I nonetheless wished that the concert had asked more of us after the break rather than once again hearing Schumann’s Fourth Symphony. I wish that the Philharmonic would explore important but little-known symphonies of that same epoch–those of Louis Spohr (his intriguing 2nd and 4th) or of Louise Farrenc (which fascinated Parisians in the 1840s). Why do we keep having sameness in the classics?

  31. Applause broke out all over the Disney Hall yesterday afternoon when Yuja Wang’s ended her spectacular performance of the first movement of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with James Conlin and the LA Philharmonic. This seemed the most natural of all the outbursts of applause between movements I have heard in that hall in recent years : we had to respond, we had to participate, I sense because we found in the music an ever-present modernity. Was the sonority of John Adams in other people’s ears, too? But it wasn’t just the clangorous chords that drove us to clap, but also the plaintive melodies she brought out in unexpected places.

    Still, the audience’s gesture also grew out of the awe we felt toward Benjamin Britten’s Symphonia da Requiem, which had opened the program. That piece stunned everyone into utter silence for almost a minute–and that experience led to communal jubilation when finding an extraordinary happiness with the Prokofiev.

    Hearing Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 after too so original works further deepened my appreciation of how subtle and original that work is, taking late romanticism in a special direction. One does not often experience a program with as much musical enlightenment. Bill Weber


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