Letter: Changed customs of musical applause

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The Independent Online
From Mr Martin Shaw

Sir: I sympathise with your correspondent's complaint (letter, 30 July) about the applause after the third movement of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique - maximum impact being best achieved by having only the briefest pause before the start of the desolate finale - but it prompts me to wonder when and why the modern taboo on applause between movements began.

Alice Elgar's diaries contain frequent references to enthusiastic applause (and "curtain calls") between movements of her husband's symphonies. In the time of Hadyn and Mozart, applause was common between and even during movements, in appreciation of some particularly felicitous phrase or virtuoso playing (a tradition continued by traditional jazz bands).

Few of use would wish modern performances to be quite so "authentic". Some music (eg. the first movement of Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto) surely calls for more than the usual shuffling and chorus of bronchial conditions; some demands an appreciative silence. Flexibility would be nice, so that we could show our appreciation or sit quietly, without any accompanying feelings of moral superiority or inferiority.

Yours sincerely,

Martin Shaw


1 August