People who go 'shush!' in concerts should be taken out and shot

Written By The Wagnerian on Monday, 16 May 2011 | 1:42:00 am

Or so says Damian Thompson  at the Telegraph (and Alex Ross not at the Telegraph). I am posting this because of a tweet about concert etiquette. Also, it  brought to mind poor old Wagner and the "Parsifal" miss-understanding. As many of you know, during Parsifal (especially at Bayreuth)  no one claps until the end of the last act,  a fact which, while caused by him, due to a misunderstanding, meant that Wagner  was unsure if people had enjoyed the performance or not. To add insult to injury, and  famously, Wagner was once "shushed" loudly when, as the Flower Maidens departed "stage left"  he shouted "Bravo!". So, with that in mind:

The etiquette of applause can be tricky
The etiquette of applause can be tricky
OK, Alex Ross didn’t quite say that in his delightful Royal Philharmonic Society Lecture on the subject of applause at the Wigmore Hall last night. But while he was very easy-going about people who clap in between movements – positively encouraged it, in fact – he didn’t like the “shush” merchants who invariably make more noise than the little old lady unwrapping a cough sweet who aroused their ire in the first place.
What a phenomenon Ross is: small, shaven-headed, and given to Woody Allen-style shrugs, he exuded more genuine charm than the most ingratiating of soloists. He writes articles and blogs for the New Yorkerand, of course, he’s the author of The Rest is Noise, generally reckoned to be the most important book about classical music to appear since the millennium. The Royal Philharmonic Society has kindly made the text of his talk available online – you can download it here. It’s entitled “Hold Your Applause: Inventing and Reinventing the Classical Concert”, and uses rapid changes in clapping habits as a measure of how concert-going and music-making have developed since Mozart’s day.
Not only did Mozart expect clapping between movements; he also inserted forte outbursts into the “Paris” Symphony that he knew would provoke a round of applause mid-bar. Ross played us the section in question and asked us to applaud when we thought appropriate – and very odd it felt, too, like a game old Joseph Cooper might have dreamt up to flummox Joyce Grenfell on Face the Music. He also did an imitation of the constipated body language of conductors trying to stop the audience applauding after the finale-style Scherzo of Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique”.
Anyway, here’s what he said about the shushers:
People who applaud in the “wrong place”— usually the right place, in terms of the composer’s intentions— are presumably not in the habit of attending concerts regularly. They may well be attending for the first time. Having been hissed at, they may never attend again. And let’s remember that shushing is itself noise. I often hear “Shhhh!” from another part of the hall without having heard whatever minor disturbance elicited it. In an ironic twist, these self-appointed prefects of the parterre — or gods of the gods — have made themselves more of a nuisance than those whom they are righteously reprimanding. There is something dismaying about this narrow-eyed watchfulness on the part of connoisseurs and this fearfulness on the part of neophytes. I doubt that Beethoven had anything like it in mind when he set to music the words “Be embraced, you millions!”