To insure we are all comfortably seated in the same front row orchestra seats, the discussion centers itself around the inevitable applause that spontaneously erupts following the kinetic, roisterous, almost drunkenly giddy (if ironically) triumphant third movement, Allegro molto vivace of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 in B minor, subtitled Symphonie Pathétique. (Discussion about the dubious birth of that subtitle will take place another day.)
Those preliminary tweets above brought to mind comments on this same subject mentioned in an exchange with Anne Midgette, classical music critic for The Washington Post, and which further led to research on the history of the etiquette of applause in the concert hall with Alex Ross, music critic to The New Yorker. For those of you loathe to download the 6 pages of further information in the link provided within the link I've just provided, here are some highlights from Alex Ross' lecture "Hold Your Applause: Inventing and Reinventing the Classical Concert," delivered to The Royal Philharmonic Society in Wigmore Hall on March 8, 2010, concerning:
...the No-Applause rule, a central tenet of modern classical-music etiquette, which holds that one must refrain from clapping until all movements of a work have sounded. No aspect of the prevailing classical concert ritual seems to cause more puzzlement than this regulation. The problem...is that the etiquette and the music sometimes work at cross purposes. When the average person hears this--
--his or her immediate instinct is to applaud. The music itself seems to demand it, even beg for it. The word "applause" comes from the instruction "Plaudite," which appears at the end of Roman comedies instructing the audience to clap. Chords such as these are the musical equivalent of "Plaudite." They almost mimic the action of putting one's hands together, the orchestra being unified in a series of quick percussive sounds. [People who have] ever clapped after the third movement of Tchaikovsky's Pathétique, or the first movement of the "Emporer" Concerto, or in other "wrong" places, [they were] intuitively following instructions contained in the score. ...What I would like to see is a more flexible approach, so that the nature of the work itself dictates the nature of the presentation--and, by extension, the nature of the response.
It is perhaps the most fraught case of all. Some conductors freeze their arms in the air at the loud end of the third movement, perhaps bending the body some ways toward the audience in an effort to stop the applause that so often comes. Sometimes, even as applause is breaking out, he will lead straight into the Adagio lamentoso, so that the heart-rending opening bars of the movement go unheard. ...There is, of course no way of knowing what Tchaikovsky may have thought of the rule that emerged not long after his death. ...We have to bear in mind the possibility that Tchaikovsky imagined applause while he was composing, and that he may even have counted on it. After that false ending...the audience automatically swells with applause. Into that noise of public triumph tears the sound of private lament. In a way, applause may be crucial to the shock effect of this work, its unsettling inversion of the familiar Beethovenian narrative of solitary struggle giving way to collective joy.