BBC News has today published a new addition to the growing body of literature centred around that great existential question facing classical music today: is it okay to clap between movements now or what?
Do you know, I’m now so sick of hearing the arguments for or against clapping at concerts that I’ve ceased caring. Personally, I’ve never found it particularly problematic. A smattering of applause is no more distracting than the traditional round of coughing and hacking that usually takes place between movements. On the other hand, there are certain junctures in a piece where it really is a bit inappropriate to start bravoing at the top of your lungs: at the end of pretty much any slow movement, for instance, which always ensures a frisson of tension when a composition actually ends with one, like Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.
At any rate, I find it far more distracting when concertgoers attempt to correct the poor, naïve souls who thought that that thunderous climax in the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth was actually the end of the symphony. Usually such correctives take the form of a shushing sound which, when echoed around an entire concert hall, sounds like a thunderous round of applause with the volume turned down. Clapping is a form of white noise, and trying to prevent it by emitting yet more white noise is just silly. (Besides: clapping one movement early makes a lot of sense in the Pathétique. The finale of that symphony hardly leaves one bursting with joie de vivre.)
Anyway, we classical music fans do ruminate on the art of applause far too much. How about we just never mention the subject ever again and see what happens?