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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Classical music

Sunday November 13 2016

I have a new CD player which has the delightful property that it does not put a little pause in between tracks.  My previous CD player, an abomination perpetrated by something called Cambridge Audio, does insert such gaps.  This doesn’t matter, mostly, because mostly the tracks I want to listen to have gaps between them anyway, so gaps that are a tiny bit bigger are not a problem.  But if you are listening to one of those classical pieces which is played in one continuous lump, but which is divided up into episodes on the CD, and when each of these episodes is given a separate track, the effect is disastrous.  A total deal breaker.  Strauss Alpine Symphony Rachmaninov Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini or Corelli Variations.  Almost any opera.  There are actually a lot of such pieces.

Just after buying this abominable device, and before I started suffering from its vile gap habit, I also acquired a CD of Daniil Trifonov doing several Rachmaninov variations pieces, and it was while attempting to listen to this CD that I discovered how appalling this Cambridge Audio CD player was.

So now I have a new CD player, which leaves no gaps, and I went looking for that Trifonov CD, in order to actually enjoy it for the first time.  But then came the mystery.  I couldn’t find it.  I have a vague recollection of putting this CD in a different place, to play it on a different player, I think.  But what different place?  Did I even own this CD at all?  Had I only imagined owning it, and had I actually played another CD of those Rachmaninov pieces?

As I searched I realised that I was tidying up.  I guess there are two ways to look for something.  You made the place even more of a mess, or you make it less of a mess.  And, if only because there was nowhere to put any mess I created, I found myself actually reducing the mess.  And once I found myself doing that, I also found myself rereading this, which is me telling me about an earlier effort along similar lines.

I may never find that Trifonov CD.  But if an imaginary CD causes me to contrive the reality of a more tidy home, ... 

Saturday October 08 2016

Whenever I see an old car, of the sort that was the latest thing when I was a kid, I photo it, or I try to.

See, for instance, those delightful old Citroens in Roupell Street.  Which were there, I have since learned, not because someone in Roupell Street is collecting them, but because someone in Roupell Street is repairing them.

And see also, this ...:

imageimageimage

… which I saw earlier this week, while on my way to a violin and piano recital at the Romanian Cultural Institute in Belgrave Square.  A Rolls Royce, on the way to what turned out to be a Rolls Royce performance.

I used to have a Dinky Toy version of that car.

I am increasingly coming to believe that many of our most powerfully felt aesthetic prejudices are formed in the nursery.  And that a lot of Modern Art is the recreation of those happy sensations, in an enlarged form, suitable for the enlarged people that the nursery dwellers turn into.

But Dinky Toy cars don’t have to be enlarged, because they already have been.  Enlarged Dinky Toy cars are called: cars.

Come to think of it, I also had a couple of Dinky Toy Citroens, a DS19, and a 2CV.  Yes, this explains a lot.

Saturday September 24 2016

I’m listening to chitchat on Radio Three about the origins of Radio Three’s previous and original manifestation, the Third Programme.

They’ve just mentioned an article by John Croft called Composition is not research.  I quickly found it on the www, and I want to hang on to it.

First paragraph:

There are, by and large, two kinds of composers in academia today – those who labour under the delusion that they are doing a kind of ‘research’, and those who recognise the absurdity of this idea, but who continue to supervise PhD students, make funding applications, and document their activities as if it were true. Composing, of course, might on occasion depend on research – how do I make an orchestra sound like a bell? How do I electronically sustain a note from an instrument so that it doesn’t sound mechanical? What is the best way to notate microtones or complex rhythms so that they can be accurately played? But none of these is actually the composition of music. Rameau’s harmonic theory was research, and it surely influenced his music (and music in general), but the Traité de l’harmonie is not a musical composition. The development of the pianoforte involved research and influenced music in profound ways, but it was not composing.

I have not read this essay yet.  But the point of this posting is not to say what I think of it, merely to make sure that I do read it.

I have long been interested in the rather misleading idea of musical “progress”.  This seems like it will be closely related to that idea.  Another related idea: music is not science, and new music does not replace old music.  But, I shall see.

Saturday September 03 2016

One of the reasons I have such a pathologically enormous CD collection is that I fear the power that music holds over me.  I fear being in the position of wanting to hear something, but not being able to.

This morning, on Radio 3, they played a piece of piano music which I liked a lot, both the piece itself and the playing, but did not recognise.  I thought it was perhaps Mozart, played by Brendel, maybe.  It turned out to be Haydn, played by Pletnev.  I just dug around on the www, and here is Pletnev playing that same piece.  Whether that’s the exact same performance I don’t know, but it is playing right now and it sounds pretty good to me.  The piece is snappily entitled: “Variations in F minor”.  Until now, this was not a piece I had paid any attention to.

But I hit the age of musical addiction combined with the money to feed the habit long before there was any www.  For me, having music at my command doesn’t mean knowing about a link.  It means possessing a shiny plastic circle, in a square plastic case.  So, as soon as I had set the radio to record CD Review, as is my Saturday morning habit, I searched through my CD collection (subsection: Haydn), for that Pletnev performance.  No show.  But Amazon informed me that there is a Pletnev Haydn double album with Haydn piano concertos on disc one and Haydn solo piano music on disc two.  I looked again, in the Haydn subsection (sub-subsection: piano concertos).  Success.  I possess the exact same performance thad was played on the radion this morning.  So now, this music doesn’t control me.  I control it.

The question of who is in charge of music and music-making is actually a big deal, historically.  Beethoven’s career, and then later Wagner’s career, were all about Beethoven, and Wagner, being in charge of their music and of their music-making, rather than their patrons or their audiences.  You can tell this from just listening to their music.  Haydn, on the other hand, predated that era, and was dependent upon aristocratic patronage, and this shows in his music.  He would probably not enjoy reading this blog posting, by this annoying and undeserving control freak from out of the future.  But he would not have made a fuss.  Or such is my understanding of his character.

Or, he might have rejoiced that he could have made recordings of his music, in circumstances completely within his control, and that I could then listen to them in circumstances completely within my control.  For me, this is the best of both worlds, and it would be nice to think that it might have suited him also.

Tuesday June 07 2016

So, daily-blog-read-for-me David Thompson linked to a posting at ArtBlog, about the rights and wrongs of arts subsidies.  I read that posting, and read through the comments too, just as David Thompson did.  I find myself wanting to comment.  But, can I be bothered?

And then, in comment number 16, courtesy of the Maitre D of ArtBlog, Franklin Einspruch, I discover that I have commented, thus:

The greatest art seems to happen when high art and low art combine, in the form of something that is superficially entertaining and stirring and popular, and also as profound as profundity seekers might want it to be. Arts subsidies harm art by dividing it into less good entertainment art, paid for by punters, and less good high art, paid for with subsidies. Arts subsidies in Britain are now being cut somewhat. The result will be somewhat better art.

Which Franklin found in this Samizdata posting and copied into his comment thread.  How about that?!

The two arts that best illustrate this opinion of mine are probably Elizabethan and post-Elizabethan theatre (i.e. Shakespeare and all that), and classical music in the days of its glory, from about the late 1700s until around 1900 (i.e. Mozart, Beethoven and all that).

Shakespeare’s plays are now considered just about as profound as Art with a capital A can ever get, but at the time, his stuff was considered rather middle-brow.  Too commercial, too appealing to the rabble.  About half of Shakespeare’s mere plays - the very word suggests something not to be taken truly seriously, doesn’t it? - were nearly lost to us:

Of the 36 plays in the First Folio, 17 were printed in Shakespeare’s lifetime in various good and bad quarto editions, one was printed after his death and 18 had not yet been printed at all. It is this fact that makes the First Folio so important; without it, 18 of Shakespeare’s plays, including Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, Macbeth, Julius Caesar and The Tempest, might never have survived.

What will posterity, in its various and many successive iterations, consider to be the Great Art of our time?  And how much of it will be lost, on account of it not now being considered artistic enough?

Monday May 23 2016

I keep wanting to write about music, but (a) it isn’t easy, unless both you and your readers know all the technical terms of your preferred sort of music.  And (b) whereas words go fine with music, words about music, especially if they are attempting to be descriptive of a particular piece of music, can be devilishly hard to contrive in a way that is comprehensible without being banal and superficial and generalised.

A specialist blog or website devoted to a particular sort of music, with musical illustrations supplied to click on rather than only descriptive verbiage, whose writer(s) and readers are united by their taste in that particular sort of music, that makes perfect sense to me.  I don’t read any such blogs, but it makes sense.  I do read old school paper magazines (I see that there is a new one of those out that I’ve not yet seen) exactly like this. But a blog about other things which from time to time goes musical, not so much.  I have no problem at all with my favourite bloggers (6k and Mick Hartley spring to mind) doing postings every so often about music that they happen particularly to like.  Their gaffs, their rules.  But I mostly skip such postings.  I possess a lifetime and more of music in the form of a vast CD collection that I already want to listen to.

So, I do not wish myself merely to do postings about bits of music that I happen to like, hoping - implicitly or explicitly - that others will be infected with my tastes.  I love Western classical music more than life itself, often a lot more.  But most people don’t these days, and that’s fine with me.  If I thought that western classical music was about to be completely expunged from the earth any time soon, I might feel differently about trying to infect others with the love of it, but it isn’t.  Meanwhile, this music is, for me, mostly a personal thing.  It is not an evangelical religion.  If I meet a fellow devotee, we exchange enthusiastic exclamations of love for this or that piece or performance, but I mostly refrain from inflicting such True Believer talk on non-believers.

I am evangelical and anti-evangelical about some things.  If you are not a libertarian, I want that to change.  You should become a libertarian forthwith.  If you are a Muslim, I want you to know, now, that I think you should stop being a Muslim, now.  But if you hate Beethoven and adore hip-hop, that’s fine with me, so long as you have no plans forcibly to stop me listening to Beethoven or to force me to listen to hip-hop.  If you merely want me to adore hip-hop, or even to stop adoring Beethoven, again, fine.  Just so long as you don’t recommend the use of sticks or stones to make those points.  Insofar as you do, then shame on you. But exactly the same point applies to people who force Beethoven upon those who resist Beethoven’s charms.  I am evangelical about that sort of behaviour also.  Are you threatening others with Beethoven?  Stop doing that, now.  Do you favour such behaviour by others.  Don’t even think that.

However, more general postings about music (this one being an example) about the different ways we listen to it and enjoy it, how love of music spreads or should spread (that is what this posting has partly been about), about how those who contrive it contrive it, and so on, of the sort that all music lovers can read and tune into, even as they are hearing in their own heads quite distinct musical illustrations concerning whatever is being said, that makes more sense to me, and - memo to self - I want to do more of such postings here.

Sunday May 08 2016

The Mozart Requiem, or “Rec” (sp?) as performers apparently call it, was duly performed yesterday in the magnificent setting of Narbonne Cathedral, and was wonderful.  G(od) D(aughter) 2 and her colleagues sang beautifully throughout.

However, because of an oddity of the Cathedral’s acoustics, men’s voices would often leap out in front of of the general wash of sound, like closely recorded concerto soloists.  This happened when the chorus was singing, and it also happened when the lady soloists were singing in unison with the gentlemen soloists.  When that was happening, the lady soloists, mezzo-soprano Alice Ruxandra Bell (GD2) and soprano Isabelle Atkinson were, at any rate as heard from where I was sitting, somewhat drowned out by the gents.  The gents sang beautifully, but so did the ladies and you had to listen rather too carefully for my liking to realise this.

But towards the end came the Benedictus.  In this, rather than the ladies and the gents all singing at once, there were precious moments when the ladies were duetting together, while the gents waited their turn to do likewise, the gents complementing the ladies rather than singing over them.  Heaven.  At which point you realised why, following an earlier performance of an identical programme in the town of Ceret last year, a repeat performance was requested for Narbonne, with identical forces.

The all-important chorus, despite my acoustic quibbles, sounded great, as did the orchestra.

My feeling at the end of the Requiem was: I wish I could hear that Benedictus again.  Not right now, necessarily, but, you know, some time.  Was anyone, I wondered, attempting a recording of this occasion?  Following the enthusiastic ovation that greeted the performance, conductor François Ragot and his soloists returned to do an encore, and guess what.  They did a repeat of the Benedictus.  Heaven again.

Earlier, in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, Séverine Paris was the mellifluous and utterly assured soloist.  The slow movement was, for me, especially eloquent.

Attendance at this event was free of charge, which perhaps was why the Cathedral was so packed.  Afterwards, the soloists said what a joy it was to be performing for such a huge throng in such a wonderful building.  Being just one of the throng was pretty marvellous too.

Friday May 06 2016

Today, I will be journeying from Thuir to Narbonne, to hear a performance of Mozart’s Requiem in Narbonne Cathedral.  I will share the car journey with G(od)D(aughter) 2’s parents, the soprano soloist, the mezzo-soprano soloist (GD2), and the baritone soloist (I wrote about his performance as Sir Despard Murgatroyd in Ruddigore in June of last year).  I heard a tiny snatch of these three singers rehearsing this afternoon.  Despite an unforgiving acoustic (quite unlike the cathedral), and the then very incomplete orchestra, it sounded to me like it will be excellent, particularly the three soloists I will be rooting for.  I heard nothing of the chorus, but conductor François Ragot is much loved by all and I’m sure they’ll do well.

Later, I also got hear a distant snatch of the piece that will proceed the Requiem, Mozart’s similarly beloved Clarinet Concerto.  That too sounded very promising.

I mention all this now (now being the very small hours of the night before) because today (i.e. tomorrow) looks like being a complicated day, and the option of not doing anything more here today (i.e. tomorrow) is one that it will be very convenient to have.

Monday April 18 2016

Indeed:

image

For the uninitiated.  I did once sit through this piece, when it was on the radio, but my mind wandered.  I blame the performance.  I also fondly remember the Gramophone (I think) review of a recording of it: a blank column.

Tuesday March 01 2016

After writing, several times, about how hard it is to do this, I am finally getting used to being able to investigate any strange thing that I see in London, provided that the strange thing has some strange words on it, or better yet, a strange website.

So, this afternoon, I saw this, on the front of a bus, in Whitehall:

image

And here is what that is about:

Capture the heart of the city’s culture. landmarks and history on our London Routemaster bus, whilst sipping on a lovely cup of tea and enjoying the exquisite tastes of France. High tea accompanied with an array of tasty sandwiches and delicious cakes and pastries. Your uniformed London bus driver will take you round The London Eye, Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St James’s Park, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, The Royal Albert Hall, Marble Arch, Piccadilly Circus, Nelson’s Column, Downing Street and more.

Adults “from” £45.  And I bet all they do is point at these various Things, and talk.  There’s no way they let you out to actually explore them.  That would take too long.  So, pass.  I reckon I could go by train to Birmingham and back for that, and actually I’m thinking of doing just that, some time later this year.  Take in a few canals and whatever Big Things they have up there, and then a classical concert at Symphony Hall to check out its acoustics and how much better these than the frightful acoustics of the Royal Festival Hall, and then back to Euston and snug in my bed back home the same day.

Symphony Hall opened in 1991 to immediate public and critical acclaim. With its world class acoustics and stunning auditorium it is considered to be not only the UK’s finest concert hall but also one of the best in the world.

That sounds like it could be worth forty five quid.  And I’m writing this plan here to make it more likely that it will happen.

But forty five quid for a bus ride, some sandwiches, cakes and a cup of tea?  Pull, as we say in these parts, the other one.  Give, to coin a phrase, over.

Sunday February 21 2016

imageI have been reading Martin Geck’s biography of Bach (translated into English by Anthea Bell).

The question I now bring to Bach is: What did he think he was doing?  Worshipping God?  Being Beethoven before Beethoven?  More the latter than I had realised, it would seem.

Here is an excerpt not from the book itself, but from my English paperback edition’s introduction, by John Butt:

One idea that immediately emerges from his biography is that Bach’s relatively provincial Eisenach background was something that he never fully relinquished. In other words, he plumbed the greatest depth of experience from a relatively modest environment.  Ironically, this gave his music much value in later centuries.  Had this music been truly fashionable or cosmopolitan in its own age, over- filled with local relevance, it would surely have sounded dated in later years.  But Bach’s strikingly profound exploration of a limited world somehow translates well to subsequent eras.  The historical material is relatively easily assimilated by any to whom it is alien, yet Bach’s treatment of it is the most penetrating and challenging imaginable.

Another point that rendered him such a ‘hardy traveller’ in later ages is that he did not cultivate a deliberately idiosyncratic personality.  This biography shows us that his principal means of learning was the traditional one: study and improving exemplars. As Geck observes, Bach spent many years working on the same few works, and the exact beginning and ending of the process cannot (and should not) necessarily be traced. It is as if the composer is aiming for a perfection that is not humanly achievable.  The very openness of these works, coupled with their intense perfection, somehow gives them a momentum that carries them into the future.

Idiosyncratic his compositional personality may not have been, but there is no doubt that Bach’s personality was extremely strong.  Geck reveals an extravagant, ‘virtuoso’ character in Bach’s fiery encounters with the council of Arnstadt.  As a virtuoso, Bach seems to wish to say as much as possible all in one moment, and this develops into a more mature dialectic, between the cultivation of the greatest intensity of expression and the greatest degree of order in his music.  Geck discerns Bach’s search for ultimate truth in his basic compositional philosophy of ‘all-in-one’ and ‘all-from-one’ (his deriving of the entire composition from as small a number of elements as possible).  Once again, this relates to Bach’s development of the most intense musical vision from a straitened environment.

Did Bach thus cultivate a sense of individuality, a sense of autonomous art, within the context of what was basically a traditional craft-like activity?  Geck suggests that there was a real sense in which Bach’s music performed a covert social function somehow sublimating, his professional problems and the various contradictions of his age, such as between church and art.  In this way, Bach’s music does indeed relate to the German tradition of the following century, not least the art of Beethoven, which similarly articulates a special kind of humanity by transcending the difficulties of life.

Art as social climbing.  Discuss.

It certainly worked for Bach.  (And Beethoven.)

Monday January 18 2016

An informative piece by Rowan Moore in the Guardian, about the hoped-for replacement for the dismal failure that is the Royal Festival Hall:

It’s an amazing thing that for the sake of some fractions of a second of reverberation time, and some other acoustic niceties, and for the sake of acoustic properties that can only be described with vague adjectives such as “warm”, it is proposed that several hundred million pounds be spent on a completely new concert hall in London, to improve on the existing Royal Festival Hall (built in 1951, extensively renovated in 1964 and 2007) and the Barbican (built in 1982, extensively renovated in 1994 and 2001).

This is what Simon Rattle, future music director of the London Symphony Orchestra, is saying, and he has got George Osborne and Boris Johnson to support him.  Rattle says that London needs the best possible concert hall, where you can “experience the sound of a great orchestra with brilliance, immediacy, depth, richness and warmth”, to attract the best possible musicians, which means shifting very many tons of building materials to fine-tune the vibrations of air. And if there is one thing that almost everyone agrees on in this contentious project (why spend so much in straitened times? Wouldn’t it be better to back performers directly rather than their carapace? Should so much be spent in culturally well-endowed London?), it is that the acoustics of the city’s existing large auditoriums definitely don’t work well enough.

Which means that if this project is to go ahead, it definitely, absolutely, without a shadow of doubt, must get its acoustics right. ...

Indeed.

Moore also writes about the surroundings.  These must be nice, but not attention seeking.  Satisfying for concert-goers, but not “ikonic” if that in any way jeopardises the accoustics, or the satisfaction of concert-goers.  Play your shots and don’t get out, as the cricketers say.

The logic of what Moore says tells me that they should first build the concert hall with absolutely no “surroundings”, and keep on building it until the acoustics are world class.

The basic fact here is, as Moore explains, that you only know for sure if you have a great concert hall after you have built it.  And a bad concert hall, well architected, will be a total failure.  London already has at least one of those (or two, depending on what you think of the Barbican’s architecture), and the last thing it needs is another.

So: build the new hall, as a separate process from all the subsequent architectural tarting up.  If the acoustics are unfixably bad, smash it down and do it again, until the acoustics are satisfactorily superb.  When the acoustics are superb, then get to work on the surroundings, and if that is fucked up first time around, well, do that again too.  And then, if anyone feels inclined, why not then slap some ikonic stuff on the top?  But: one thing at a time.

This is not the usual way that big architecture is done.  The usual way is to do everything at once, and make damn sure you get everything as right as you can.  But then, concert halls are not your usual architecture.

Saturday January 16 2016

Given that I am not actually seeing any visuals on a screen, sleeping through the decisive passage of play of the latest test match in South Africa only made it more dramatic.

There I was, making sure I was awake and able to start the recording of Record (as they have now gone back to calling it (it had been CD)) Review, and then getting up for a piss and a cool down before getting back to bed again for a bit of a lie in, by which time England were all out 323, with a first innings lead of 10.  Before dozing off, I learned that Sinopoli’s Cavalleria Rusticana was the winning Cavalleria Rusticana in a strong field, and then I surfaced again and was informed by my other bedside radio that South Africa had lost no wickets in reply and were ahead at lunch, and then I dozed off again, and then got up properly ... to learn from my computer that South Africa were 44-5, oh no make that 45-6, correction 46-7.  Game over.

image

That pic is the last one of these.

A lot of cricket photos these days, including most of this lot, seem to be, not of cricketers doing great things, but of cricketers celebrating having just done them.  The pictures of Moeen Ali’s broken bat are also fun, but again, what you really want to see is the moment when it broke.  The above photo is a refreshing exception.  It shows Broad actually taking the final wicket of the South African innings, with a diving caught and bowled.

LATER:

image

One of the pictures in this.

Monday November 09 2015

The German conductor Herbert von Karajan probably did more to popularise classical music after WW2 that any other single person.  His LPs and then his CDs and DVDs sold in their millions.  I have many Karajan CDs myself.  So, the question of whether he was any sort of Nazi and if so what sort remains a hot topic.

Playwright Ronald Harwood, author of a play about Wilhelm Furtwängler, was recently interviewed on BBC4 TV.  During this, Harwood mentioned, in contemptuous passing, that Karajan was obviously a Nazi.  Furtwängler was interesting because it wasn’t clear, hence that play.  Karajan?  Not interesting, because clearly he was.  He hired a Jewish secretary after the war.  What more do you need to know?

Well, I for one needed to know a bit more than only that, so I did some googling and came across this by Peter Alward, former vice-president of EMI Classics:

I first met Karajan in 1976, and we remained friends up to his death. He was one of EMI’s flagship artists in the late 70s and early 80s; most of his operatic work was for us, his symphonic work for Deutsche Grammophon. Yes, he cultivated the cult of the maestro - he was a shrewd businessman and recognised his market worth. He was not slow in coming forward and speaking his mind, but no conductor is a shrinking violet. I feel he was misunderstood. There was the glamorous image - the jet-set lifestyle - but this was all a defence. He was really very shy, a simple man with simple tastes. I vehemently oppose the theory that he was a Nazi. He was an opportunist. I’m Jewish, and if I believed otherwise, I wouldn’t have spent a minute in his company.

Opportunist sounds about right to me.  Karajan, like all conductors, needed power, over an orchestra.  Needing this sort of power, he had to avoid antagonising whoever the politicians were, the ones with the more regular sort of power.  But he did not care about politics for its own sake, merely as a means to the end of his music making.

Trouble is, you can surely say the same for a great many other servants of the Third Reich.  I bet plenty of rocket, airplane, tank, bomb and ship designers were equally opportunistic, and equally free of any positive desire to be Nazis.  But whoever happened to be Germany’s politicians, these people would have served them.  All they cared about was rockets, airplanes, tanks, bombs and ships.  Classical music was not as important to the Nazi regime as armaments were, but it was quite important.  Karajan did help.

The most interesting titbit I learned from this little burst of Karajan-googling was that apparently his second wife, Anita, whom he married in 1942, was burdened with a Jewish grandfather.  But hKarajan wasn’t merely “burdened” thus.  He burdened himself.  Wikipedia:

On 22 October 1942, at the height of the Second World War, Karajan married Anna Maria “Anita” Sauest, born Gütermann. She was the daughter of a well-known manufacturer of yarn for sewing machines. Having had a Jewish grandfather, she was considered a Vierteljüdin (one-quarter Jewish woman).

Just marrying a quarter-Jewess, before that was dodgy, is one thing.  Being a celeb and marrying a famous heiress with a famously rich and half-Jewish dad, and doing all that in 1942, is something else again.  That’s more than just hiring an entirely Jewish secretary after the war.

When I read about such people and about such times, I don’t feel inclined to condemn.  I merely wonder how I might have behaved, or misbehaved, had I been confronted by such pressures and such temptations.

Sunday August 30 2015

I just watched a recording I made of a BBC TV show called Proms Extra, which is a chat show that responds to and flags up London’s immediately past and immediately future Promenade Concerts.  They were asking themselves whether they minded clapping in between movements, in connection with a performance of The Planets, in which this had happened..  The assembled commentators agreed that they did not mind at all.

Two thoughts from me about this.

First, the assumption seems to be that people clap in between movements because they don’t know they’re not supposed to.  But I think it is much more knowing than this.  I think the audience has changed its mind about this.

There has been a huge movement in music-making to achieve an “authentic” sound, by which is meant the sort of sound made by the first performers of the pieces.  Well, why not more authentic audiences?  Time was when “classical” audiences would clap in between movements without hesitation.  Sometimes they would yell for encores, of symphonic movements, before the symphony had even finished, just like at the opera.  That in-between-movements clapping is now happening (has been for quite a while actually) at the Proms tells me that the current fashion for clapping in among big multi-movement pieces is a very knowing decision, a very musically educated decision.  We are not “supposed” to do this?  Well guess what, we have decided that we will do this.

It’s not only this, but I am sure that this is part of it.

Personally, I think that not clapping something like the tumultuous third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, for instance, seems very unnatural.

However second, there is no doubt that this new convention, if new convention it will be, has not yet been fully established.  Sometimes it happens, sometimes not, and quite often in a rather tentative, awkward and rather indecisive way.  So, it must surely sometimes make life a little difficult for performers.

What if you have just given what you reckon was a tumultuously great performance of a movement which ends in a manner than just begs to be greeted with a round of applause, and there is silence?  In the older days, of strict inter-movement silence, fine.  I’m not finished.  But now?  Hm.  Did they not like it?  And, after a bit of silence, will they relent, and start clapping, just as I am starting the next movement?

The older regime of silence in between movements was at least a rule, which everyone stuck to and which newcomers quickly learned, from all the dirty looks they got if they broke the rule.  And performers could either pause or press on immediately, confident that no clapping would interrupt whatever effects they were seeking to create.