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The Etiquette of Applause

It’s a question that comes up seemingly annually, often around the BBC Proms Season, it’s confusing and even controversial in classical music: when it the “correct” time to clap? The Music Workshop Company’s Founder and Artistic Director, Maria Thomas, shares her feelings about applause and its impact on the concert experience.

“Different styles of music each have their own traditions about when clapping is appropriate. In Latin American music clapping along to the music is often encouraged. In jazz is it usual to clap immediately after a solo and then again at the end of piece. In classical music, recent tradition suggests audiences should refrain from clapping until the end of the piece, signified by the conductor placing the baton down on the music stand, rather than at the end of each movement. The etiquette of clapping in opera seems to be particularly nuanced depending on programming and venue.

The topic of concert etiquette is so challenging it even has its own Wikipedia page.

Note that I mentioned “recent tradition” with reference to Classical Music above. In the past it was usual for audiences to applaud between the movements of symphonies, and if enough enthusiasm was shown, a movement would be repeated before the next movement was played. The response of audiences indicated to composers and performers the views of those listening.

[Image: Domdomegg]

However, in the 19th and 20th Century there was a move to restrict clapping so audiences would only applaud at the end of a piece. Mahler apparently specified in the score of his Kindertotenlieder that its movements should not be punctuated by applause.

The debate on clapping in classical music has been raging for decades. Arthur Rubinstein, the pianist, said in a 1966 interview, “It’s barbaric to tell people it is uncivilized to applaud something you like.” Alex Ross’s discussion in The Rest Is Noise gives a variety of examples of the debate.

Back in 2016, the Telegraph discussed the response to clapping in between movements at the Proms and reported that many regular ‘prommers’ dislike the habit, whereas Proms Director David Pickard believes it is a good thing:

If you’re listening to something and you think it’s exciting you applaud it.

This year the question was raised again by Chi Chi Nwanoku, double bass player and Founder of the Chineke! Orchestra. In an article in the Guardian, Nwanoku states:

I despair when anyone is reprimanded for showing their spontaneous response at the end of a movement, particularly a heady one that ends on a high… It’s absolutely fantastic to be on the receiving end of rapturous and spontaneous applause.

The Guardian’s letters page featured a number of responses to this comment, some agreeing with Nwanoku’s opinion:

It is intellectual snobbery at its worst to maintain that one must listen to the entire work in silence.

And some disagreeing:

The silence at the end was a profoundly emotional one. And it was into that silence that a small amount of applause broke the spell.

Those who support the idea of clapping in between the movements of a classical work seem to come both from both sides of the performance; auditorium and the stage.

As Nwanoku discussed, reasons for accepting that people will clap in between movements include cultural differences and the possibility that people might be put off attending concerts because they don’t understand the etiquette or are worried about getting something wrong.

As both a performer and concert-goer (including regularly as a ‘prommer’), I know what I prefer in the concert hall, and that is saving the clapping until the end. As noted by the Guardian letter-writer above, there is often a magical moment at the end of a movement, a short pause before moving into the next.

In a similar way, I find it frustrating when a classical radio station plays individual movements of symphonies. The end of the movement is reached, and if I know the work I am mentally preparing for the opening of the next movement when the presenter speaks…

I also find it frustrating in jazz gigs when audiences clap over the music to acknowledge a solo.

As one of the Guardian letter-writers acknowledged:

I would never be so rude as shushing those who clap between movements, but that doesn’t mean that I like it.

So is there an alternative way for audiences to show their appreciation? Orchestral musicians shuffle their feet when a colleague has performed particularly well. It can only be heard by those nearby and is designed to be a subtle movement and sound, but large audiences doing this would still break that magical silence.

How about adopting an alternative way of showing appreciation that is in use by many people already – the gesture of waving both hands in the air, sometimes called ‘jazz hands’ that is used by the deaf community and others such as those with autism. It allows people to ‘applaud’ without breaking the peace, and for those who do not want to be disturbed between movements, they can shut their eyes and enjoy the silence.”

How do you feel about concert etiquette and applause? Does clapping between movements bother you, or would you prefer to be able to spontaneously express your appreciation of a particularly fine performance? Is it elitist or respectful to follow tradition? Would worries about correct etiquette put you off attending concerts? Let us know what you think!

[Image: Niccolò Caranti]

Give a Gig for Youth Music

Youth Music is a national charity investing in music-making projects for children and young people facing challenging circumstances. These challenges include disability, poverty, mental health issues, refugee status or being brought up in care. Founded in 1999, Youth Music runs more than 350 projects across England, facilitating music making for around 75,000 children and young people.


This March, the charity is running a week-long music making extravaganza. Give a Gig week, which runs from March 24th to 31st 2017, is a nationwide project asking musicians to put on performances supporting young people. The aim is to see 100 gigs in settings from living rooms, local pubs and community facilities to legendary music venues or even more unusual spaces. York-based covers band, The Monotones, plan to stream gigs live from all Three Peaks in the Yorkshire Pennines!

Matt Griffiths, Youth Music’s CEO, says:

We’re really excited about Give a Gig Week. The money raised from the 100 gigs across the country will ensure that young people experiencing challenges in their lives can regularly make music. Musicians, bands and those making music for fun know first-hand the personal and social benefits of music making and how it can help overcome really difficult situations. I urge you to get involved and put on a gig so that many more young people have that opportunity too.

Youth Music supports practical, creative music making of every possible style and technique, with activities including songwriting, music production and performance.  Projects include the Songbirds project, which provides music making for seriously ill children at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, and Amies Freedom Choir in London, supporting young women who have been trafficked into the UK.

These opportunities improve personal and social skills as well as helping young people develop musically, and can give participants the tools to face difficult challenges in their lives. Communities divided by prejudice or gangs can be brought together to perform. Learning to write song lyrics can enable a bereaved teenager to express and process grief. Making hip-hop beats can help a young person to understand maths in a way they perhaps couldn’t grasp at school.


Before their chart-topping success, hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks performed on the Youth Music stage at the Underage Music Festival in 2009. The duo explain:

Without Youth Music we wouldn’t have got to where we are today, honestly! We’re supporting Give a Gig ‘cause we want others to have the same opportunities for making music that we did.

Laura Mvula honed her songwriting skills with Black Voices, a project supported by Youth Music in Birmingham. Now working as an Ambassador for the charity, Laura says:

Give a Gig is a really good idea because it allows singers, musicians and venues to do what they’re already doing for the benefit of a young person.

 seb_hr_high-resAnd pop star Sophie Ellis-Bextor spoke up for the initiative:

Music is a huge part of my life and I feel so lucky to have been able to make a career out of something that I love so much. Youth Music creates music-making opportunities for thousands who would otherwise miss out. That’s why I’m supporting Give a Gig – so others can experience the joys of music as I’ve done.

It’s easy to get involved – Youth Music offers a useful support pack with advice on planning and promoting gigs, as well as an online poster generator for creating publicity materials. Sign up at www.giveagig.org.uk

Follow Give a Gig Week:

Twitter@giveagig  #giveagig

Facebook:  www.facebook.com/giveagigweek

Instagram: http://instagram.com/give_a_gig

Online: www.giveagig.org.uk

Give a Gig Week takes place nationwide from 24 -31 March, 2017. To register your gig visit www.giveagig.org.uk


The Concerto: Developing the Soloist

Today the word concerto is typically used to describe a piece of music that features a particular instrument or instruments as a soloist, accompanied by an orchestra. Soloists are the most glamorous, highly paid classical musicians and their concerto performances demonstrate the pinnacle of their skill. However, the concerto was originally a composition where people played together in concert/consort, making a ‘concerted effort’.

The Baroque Concerto

The Concerto first became a key part of the repertoire in the Baroque era. It was used at the end of the 17th Century by violinists such as Corelli. Corelli is known for his Concerto Grossi which feature a small group of soloists accompanied by a larger orchestra, referred to in the score as ‘ripieno,’ a word that literally means stuffing or padding.

Archangel Corelli leading an orchestra on the Spanish Steps in Rome, 1687

Archangel Corelli leading an orchestra on the Spanish Steps in Rome, 1687

Other composers associated with the Concerto who were writing in Italy in this period include Vivaldi and Albinoni. Albinoni was one of the first composers to write concerti for the oboe, an instrument that was then fairly new to Italian ensemble music. Vivaldi is perhaps one of the best known composers of concerti, his most famous works being his Op. 4 “Le Quattro Stagioni” or “The Four Seasons” for solo violin. Unusually for the period, when Vivaldi published the concerti he included accompanying poems (possibly written by Vivaldi himself) that introduced the ideas illustrated in the music.

The Concerto was also a popular form in Germany with composers such as Telemann and J. S. Bach. Perhaps the most famous of J. S. Bach’s Concerti are the six Brandeburg Concerti, BWV 1046–1051. The Concerti have different soloists:

  • Concerto No. 1 in F major, BWV 1046 – two corni da caccia (natural horns), three oboes, bassoon, violino piccolo, two violins, viola, cello, basso continuo
  • No. 2 in F major, BWV 1047 – 1 Tromba (trumpet), 1 Flauto (recorder), 1 Hautbois (oboe), 1 Violino, concertati, è 2 Violini, 1 Viola è Violone in Ripieno col Violoncello è Basso per il Cembalo
  • No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048 – tre Violini, tre Viole, è tre Violoncelli col Basso per il Cembalo
  • No. 4 in G major, BWV 1049 – à Violino Principale, due Fiauti d’Echo (recorders), due Violini, una Viola è Violone in Ripieno, Violoncello è Continuo
  • No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050 – une Traversiere (flute), une Violino principale, une Violino è una Viola in ripieno, Violoncello, Violone è Cembalo concertato

The Concerto in England was developed by musicians from the continent, particularly the Italian composer Lully and George Fridrich Handel, from Germany.

Photograph of the original manuscript of Handel's concerto grosso Op.6 No.4, 1739 (from Page 345 of P.H.Lang's Handel)

Photograph of the original manuscript of Handel’s concerto grosso Op.6 No.4, 1739 (from Page 345 of P.H.Lang’s Handel)

Key terms from this period include:

  • Concerto da Chiesa – Church Sonata which usually had abstract movements
  • Concerto da Camera – Chamber sonatas with dance style movements
  • Concertino – was used for the group of soloists
  • Ripieno – which means “full”. This term was used to refer to the accompanying orchestra

The Classical Concerto

Many of the most famous concerti from the Classical period were composed by W.A. Mozart. Mozart’s contribution to the Concerto form was extensive and included 21 works for solo piano, one for 2 pianos, one for 3 pianos, five for violin, concertos for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn as well as a Sinfonia Concertante for solo violin and viola and a Concerto for flute and harp. In Mozart’s concerti the soloist often alternates with the main ensemble, almost setting the soloist against the accompanying musicians.

Beethoven developed the Concerto form from Mozart’s compositions utilising the interplay of soloist and orchestra in a different way, some suggest in a more collaborative way. Beethoven wrote 5 piano concerti, a violin concerto and a triple concerto for piano, violin and cello.

The Romantic Concerto

During the Romantic Period, several virtuosi utilised solo works including the form of the concerto to demonstrate their abilities. Paganini, an accomplished violinist wrote 6 violin concerti which allowed him to show off his skills. Liszt, an outstanding pianist, wrote 2 piano concerti.

Other key composers of concerti in the Romantic period include Schumann who wrote concerti for piano, cello and violin which are all still popular works today. Dvorak wrote 4 concerti, 1 for piano, 2 for violin and 2 for cello, the more famous of which is the Concerto in B minor, Op 104. Brahms wrote 4 concerti, 2 for piano, one for violin and one for violin and cello. A concerto was often written with a particular player in mind. The Brahms Violin Concerto was written for the violinist Joseph Joachim.

Here are some useful links with more information about the history, form and relevance of the concerto…

Concerto form:


The Baroque Concerto:


Modern Ideas:


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