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Carmel Monthly: Carmel Symphony Orchestra: Not Your Grandparents’ Orchestra!

September 2019

The Carmel Symphony Orchestra (CSO) opens its 2019–2020 season, “Musical Journeys with Janna,” with a fresh and innovative way designed by its music director, Janna Hymes, to target and engage diverse audiences of all ages. Hymes’ program includes a brilliant repertoire of some of the world’s most exquisite and eclectic symphonic music ever composed.

Read the rest of the story at http://carmelmonthlymagazine.com/carmel-symphony-orchestra-not-your-grandparents-orchestra/.

Gift of Music | Buy More Save More

Give yourself and your loved ones the gift of music this season with tickets to the Carmel Symphony Orchestra (CSO)!

We strongly believe that music has the power to change lives. In an effort to further the mission of enhancing the community’s quality of life through creative, artistically excellent performances, and educational experiences for diverse audiences of all ages, the CSO is offering special “Buy More, Save More” discount ticket packages this holiday season.

The CSO’s “Buy More, Save More” offering allows concert goers to save when purchasing tickets for the February 9, 2019, March 9, 2019 and April 27, 2019 concerts. Buy tickets for the February’s CSO Presents Jeff Midkiff, Mandolin and save 10%. Add tickets for the March’s CSO Presents Irina Muresanu, Violin and save to 20%! Add tickets for April’s CSO Presents Mozart’s Requiem and save 30%!

Each performance begins at 7:30 p.m. in the unparalleled setting of the world-class Palladium, with a free pre-concert conversation, “Meet the Music,” at 6:30 p.m.

This special gift of music ticket promo can be used when purchasing tickets through The Center for the Performing Arts or by calling the Center’s Box Office at 317.843.3800 and using PROMO CODE: CSOSAVE. Discounts for students also are available: the $5 YouthPASS for High School and younger and the $10 CollegePASS.

Program Notes November 10: Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff, Sibelius

Shostakovich: Festive Overture (1954)

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

The death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 brought an end to a period of severe artistic repression. Five years earlier a decree from the Central Committee accused many prominent Soviet composers, including Shostakovich and Prokofiev, of vaguely defined “anti-Soviet” tendencies. All these composers had their works banned and were forced to live hand-to-mouth, with the threat of imprisonment or worse hanging over their heads.

This decree was lifted too late for Prokofiev, who died on the same day as Stalin, but Shostakovich was able to take several works out of the drawer, including his Tenth Symphony, and arrange for their performance. At about this time, he received a commission for a new work to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the Soviet Revolution. Festive Overture was the result. In contrast to much of Shostakovich’s music, the Overture is a work of unbridled merriment. The fact that Stalin was no longer breathing down his neck was surely a factor.

The Overture begins with a grandiose, quasi-ceremonial fanfare. The main body of the work is a lively sonata-form, apparently modeled on Glinka’s Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla. Near the end, the grandiose gesture returns (with optional additional brass). The infectious high sprits of the Overture have made it a popular concert work that is frequently performed all over the world.

Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 (1934)

Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Fleeing political instability in Russia and war in Europe, Rachmaninoff and his family arrived in New York in November 1918. Having left most of the family belongings and money behind, financial stability was Rachmaninoff’s most pressing need. Fortunately, he was well-known as one of the world’s greatest pianists, and the memory of his triumphant American tour in 1909-10 was still fresh. It didn’t take long for a busy performing career to be re-established.

His American years were sadly marked by a decrease in his composing. Rachmaninoff required quiet and isolation in order to work, and both were in short supply. From 1918 until his death 25 years later, he only completed six significant compositions and a handful of smaller works, mostly arrangements.

In 1932, Rachmaninoff purchased a villa near Lake Lucerne, Switzerland. He named it Villa Senar, after the first two letters of his and his wife’s names (Sergei and Natalia), and the first letter of their last name. It became their summer retreat, and with a haven to escape the pressures of his career, he began to think of composing again.

In 1934, during their third summer in Villa Senar, Rachmaninoff worked in secret on a new work for piano and orchestra. Late in August, as they were preparing to return to America, he wrote to a friend, “Two weeks ago I finished a new piece. It is called ‘Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra in the Form of Variations on a Theme of Paganini’ (the same theme on which Liszt and Brahms based their variations). It is very long, about 20 or 25 minutes — the length of a piano concerto! The composition is very difficult, and I should start practicing it, but with every year I become more lazy about this kind of fingerwork.”

Presumably, he made himself practice it. He premiered the new work (retitled simply Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini) on November 1934, with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski. Though critical opinion was initially dismissive (as usual), it was immediately successful with the public, and is now considered one of Rachmaninoff’s greatest works.

Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840) was an Italian violinist whose virtuosity is still legendary, as is the rumor that he received his ability thanks to a pact with the Devil. The “theme of Paganini” used by Rachmaninoff is taken from the 24th Caprice for solo violin, itself a set of variations composed by Paganini in 1817. Numerous composers down to the present day (Wikipedia’s article on the 24th Caprice includes a list of over fifty composers who have written their own variations on it) have been intrigued by the tune.

A striking feature of Rachmaninoff’s work is the inclusion of a phrase from the Dies Irae plainchant, which is worked into several of the variations. The Dies Irae is taken from the traditional Requiem Mass, where it evokes the terrors of the Day of Judgement. In concert music of the 19th century, it had become a way of alluding to evil supernatural forces in general. Rachmaninoff inserted it by way of suggesting the violinist’s supposed demonic bargain, as he explained to the choreographer Michael Fokine a few years later when the two were discussing a possible ballet treatment. “Why not resurrect the legend of Paganini,” Rachmaninoff wrote, “who, for perfection in his art and the love of a woman, sold his soul to an evil spirit? All the variations which include the Dies Irae represent the evil spirit…Paganini himself first appears in the theme and again, now conquered, in Variation 23.” Fokine’s ballet Paganini, first performed with Rachmaninoff’s music in 1939, largely followed the composer’s ideas.

Although the work is not a concerto in the traditional sense, the grouping of the variations into three easily discernable sections does make at least a nod to three-movement concerto form. After a brief introduction and a variation in which the theme is heard in skeletal form, the theme proper is heard in the violins (with punctuations by the piano). The next several variations deal with the theme in various transformations, while the tempo gradually quickens. In Variation 7, as the tempo slows, the piano presents the Dies Irae theme while Paganini’s theme slithers through the bass instruments of the orchestra. The next three variations pick up the tempo again, at times suggesting a sinister march; finally all the energy dissipates, and there is a brief pause before the next section begins.

In this middle section, slow tempos predominate. Variation 11 is essentially an accompanied cadenza, leading into a slow minuet in which Paganini’s theme steps delicately as the piano plays a graceful adaptation of the Dies Irae theme. The pace once again speeds up, culminating in an extended brilliant passage for the piano alone. The tempo then slows, then slows again and again, before relaxing into Variation 18, arguably the most famous section of the piece. The piano unfolds one of those beautiful, lyrical, Romantic themes that are so typical of Rachmaninoff. At first hearing, it seems like a completely new idea, but it is nothing more than Paganini’s theme played much slower and inverted (played upside down), with little else changed.

The last section begins with a spiky treatment of the theme, obliterating the languid mood of the preceding section. Each of the next several variations ratchets up the pace and the tension level. After another cadenza, Variation 23 reintroduces the theme in something close to its original form. Yet another brief cadenza, and the final variation gets underway. As it draws to a close, the Dies Irae theme is heard one last time, and the music seems to push toward a typical grandiose conclusion, but ends unexpectedly in two whisper-soft chords.

Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 43 (1901)

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

In 1907, a conducting engagement brought Gustav Mahler to Helsinki, where he met his fellow composer Jean Sibelius. As Sibelius later reported, the two met several times, and “thoroughly discussed all the great questions of music.” Eventually the subject of the symphony came up. Sibelius later recalled the conversation: “I said that I admired its severity of style and the profound logic that created an inner connection between the motifs … Mahler’s opinion was just the reverse. ‘No, the symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything!’”

Embracing an aesthetic outlook is one thing, putting it in practice another. While Sibelius’s symphonies are outstanding examples of formal logic and “severity of style,” does that necessarily mean that they are nothing more than pure form? Sibelius himself contradicted that notion when he described his symphonies as “confessions of faith from the different periods of my life,” and admitted that, “it pleases me greatly to be known as a poet of nature, for nature has truly been the book of books for me.”

Then, too, the political situation in Finland at the time almost guaranteed that his countrymen would read deeper meaning in his symphonies, whether Sibelius put them there intentionally or not. The Finland that Sibelius grew up in was ruled by czarist Russia, and for centuries before that had been under the political domination of Sweden. During all this time, the Finnish people longed for political independence, but it took a series of Russian decrees curtailing Finnish freedoms for a true independence movement to form.

Coinciding with the political movement came a cultural one. Interest in traditional Finnish art and customs began to take center stage in Finnish life. The ancient Finnish epic poem, the Kalevala, was widely discussed, and the Finnish language itself experienced a renaissance (most business in Finland had been conducted in Swedish). Sibelius was caught up in a younger generation of artists engaged in rediscovering their Finnish heritage.

The Second Symphony was written in 1901, shortly after his patriotic tone poem Finlandia, and shares much of that work’s musical language. Sibelius never articulated a definitive program for it, but it seems to be accepted that the first movement depicts the quiet pastoral life of the Finns; the second movement brings the ominous foreshadowing of foreign rule and oppression; the scherzo depicts the awakening of national resolve, and the Finale the coming of hope and deliverance.

It is interesting to note that the second movement began with a very different inspiration – a series of sketches for a proposed but never written tone poem on Don Juan. The sketches include a short program note that could easily be applied to the beginning of the second movement: “Sitting in the twilight in my castle. A stranger comes in. I ask him more than once who he is. Finally he strikes up a song. Then Don Juan sees who he is: Death.” A warm pianissimo string melody follows marked “Christus,” with no further explanation.

This begs the question: Did Sibelius intend the second movement as a musical depiction of a struggle between life (Christus) and death? Or is it simply that when he came to compose the second movement, he found this unused material, shorn of its original context, musically useful?

The first movement, marked Allegretto, begins with soft, pulsating chords in the strings, over which oboes and clarinets present a simple tune with the feeling of a folk dance. A pastoral feeling, tinged occasionally with melancholy, pervades the movement; passion and drama is avoided.

Drama makes itself heard in the second movement, Tempo andante ma rubato. It begins with low pizzicato strings (the footsteps of Death?), leading to a mournful lament for two bassoons. The tempo increases to Allegro as a feeling of struggle is heard, followed by the “Christus” theme in the strings. The remainder of the movement is dominated by lengthy buildups of tension, followed by abrupt cutoffs, finally ending with heavy triads.

The third movement, Vivacissimo, is in the nature of a Scherzo, though not actually labeled as one. The main part of the movement introduces several lively themes, while in the trio section the oboe introduces a more nostalgic theme, beginning with nine repetitions of the same note. The movement concludes with a long sequence on a three-note motive, which leads without a break into the Finale.

The last movement begins with a bold theme in the strings supported by heroic fanfares in the brass. Later, a second theme, heard over an endless ostinato in the lower instruments, introduces an uneasy note, but the symphony ends in a mood of optimism and triumph.

Finns have embraced the Second Symphony as an expression of patriotic sentiment, a “Liberation Symphony” as some have called it. Sibelius denied that this was his intent. Still, given the dramatic arc of the symphony, and the way that it mirrors his own countrymen’s aspirations, it appears that Sibelius’s embrace was wider than he realized.


Program Notes October 13

Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1861-1867)
Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

Throughout much of the 19th century, German music was dominated by a war of words between two opposing camps. On one side were the “neo-classicists” who championed formal clarity over emotional expression. On the other side was the so-called “New German School.” They felt that form must be subject to inspiration and favored an expansion of traditional harmonic language. By the 1860s, both camps had found their respective champions in Brahms and Wagner. It must be said that Brahms did little in the way of direct participation in the debate and in fact counted himself as an admirer of Wagner. It fell to the Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick to become the most prominent voice of the neoclassical side of the debate. Wagner was more than willing to speak for himself, and in fact, he did so in a number of lengthy essays.

However, his best-known sally in the ongoing debate was certainly his music drama Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, first performed in 1868. Though billed as Wagner’s only comic opera (at least comic in a long-winded Wagnerian sense), Die Meistersinger can also be seen as an artistic manifesto. The plot concerns a song contest sponsored by the guild of Mastersingers in 16th century Nuremburg. The contest boils down to a struggle between two contestants, the newcomer Walther von Stolzing, and the narrow-minded Sextus Beckmesser. The latter’s song follows all the traditional rules laid down by the Mastersingers, and yet it is clearly inferior to Walter’s “Prize Song,” which boldly breaks them. It is almost universally assumed that the character Beckmesser is a thinly disguised caricature of Hanslick.

However, this assumption may be untrue or, at the least, wildly exaggerated. For one thing, Wagner had written a draft of the libretto as early as 1845 when Hanslick was unknown to him. For another, relations between the two men were friendly at first, before collapsing under the weight of their respective ideologies. The story may have been inadvertently begun by Wagner, who reported an incident at a reading of his libretto in 1862 while the opera was still in progress. By his account, Wagner believed that Hanslick was in some discomfort at the reading, and several of Wagner’s friends who were present got the impression that Hanslick saw the libretto as a personal attack. However, we have only Wagner’s word on this. The story has not been corroborated, even by Hanslick.

The Prelude to the opera was finished long before the opera itself and was first performed in 1862. In its broad outlines, the prelude resembles a traditional sonata form. The music begins with two themes associated with the Mastersinger’s guild. The first is a stately procession of the guildsmen, followed by the fanfare associated with the presentation of the guild’s banner. As the key changes, the violins present the third theme, a prototype version of Walther’s “Prize Song.” The development that follows includes a humorous passage in which the Mastersinger’s processional theme is presented by the winds in a mock-scholastic contrapuntal style, twice interrupted by the romantic Prize Song motive in the strings. Instead of a conventional recapitulation, in which the three main themes are played one after the other, Wagner does something totally new and presents all three themes simultaneously. The prelude concludes with a glorious affirmation of the Mastersinger themes.

Pavane, Op. 50 (1887)
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)

Though he was an important figure in the musical scene of late 19th-early 20th century France, Gabriel Fauré’s importance can be easy to overlook. The innovations of his contemporaries tended to emphasize more intense expression, longer forms, larger ensembles, ever more brilliant orchestral colors; qualities which are largely absent in Fauré’s music. His list of works consists mainly of chamber works and shorter pieces such as songs and piano music. He disliked flamboyant instrumental effects, considering them at best self-indulgent, or at worst a substitute for real musical invention. His masterpiece, the Requiem, distinguishes itself for its intimate expression, relative lack of drama, transparent orchestration, and above all its serenity, all hallmarks of Fauré’s mature style.

Despite his preference for smaller ensembles, Fauré did produce a number of orchestral works. One of his best-known is the Pavane, written in 1887 for a small orchestra consisting of woodwinds and horns in pairs, plus the usual strings. A Pavane is a slow, elegant and stately dance from the Renaissance era, originating in Italy but mainly associated with Spain. The work was originally written for a summer concert series of lighter works, but the premiere took place in November 1888.

At about the same time, Fauré began to frequent the salon of Élisabeth de Caraman Chimay, Countess Greffulhe, a leading Parisian patroness of the arts. The composer chose to dedicate the work to her. She raised the idea that the work be performed as a short ballet, but also suggested that a part for chorus be added. Fauré obliged her, adding a choral setting of a rather insipid text by the Countess’s nephew on top of the preexisting orchestral parts. The version with chorus and
dancers was first performed in 1991 at one of the Countess’s garden parties. The published score included the choral parts. However, since the chorus was simply overlaid onto an already complete composition, and contributed nothing essential, it is common to simply perform it with orchestra alone.

Fauré considered the Pavane “elegant but not particularly important;” still, it has become one of his most familiar compositions. The reasons for its appeal are obvious. The opening flute melody is haunting and easily memorable, but the simplicity of the texture is offset by Fauré’s genius for introducing unexpected harmonic twists, keeping the texture from being overly predictable. The choreographer Léonide Massine heard “haunting echoes of Spain’s Golden Age,” which brought to mind the formality and underlying melancholy he found in the paintings of Velázquez. Two decades later, nearly identical terms would be used to describe the Pavane for a Dead Princess by Maurice Ravel, Fauré’s most distinguished pupil.

Romanian Rhapsody No. 1, in A Major, Op. 11 (1901)
George Enescu (1881-1955)

Romanian violinist and composer, George Enescu was a child prodigy. He entered the Vienna Conservatory at age seven and graduated at age 12 with a silver medal. After further study in Paris, he began a career as a violinist and chamber musician in Europe. Later he began a second career as a conductor in the United States. He died in Paris in 1955. There are only 33 published works by Enescu. His busy career as a performer is often blamed, but his relentless perfectionism is probably the real reason. All of his published works were repeatedly revised before publication, and in many cases revision continued even after publication. Recent research suggests that there may be hundreds of compositions in manuscript that Enescu simply could not polish to the high standards of perfection he demanded for publication. Enescu reflected on his music, “People have been puzzled and annoyed because they have been unable to catalogue and classify me in the usual way. They could not decide exactly what type of music mine was. It was not French after the manner of Debussy; it was not exactly German … people are annoyed when they cannot readily classify one.” The fact that Enescu made use of Romanian folk idioms in his earlier works would tend to classify him as a nationalist; however, shortly after the publication of his two Romanian Rhapsodies, he began to move away from the overt use of folk materials. He disliked the limitations it placed on his creativity. He came to bitterly resent the popularity of the Rhapsodies and the way they dominated his reputation. The Rhapsodies, dominated by brilliant, virtuosic writing for the violin sections, remain as popular today as ever.

Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64 (1888)
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Creative people are often susceptible to periods of depression and self-doubt. Tchaikovsky struggled with such periods throughout his life, but the 1870s were an especially difficult. Spectacular successes were followed by equally spectacular failures, with some of the failures existing only in his mind. The decade also encompassed his disastrous marriage, stemming from a desperate attempt to deny his homosexuality, followed by a halfhearted suicide attempt. Professionally, however, 1878 was a banner year, with the completion of three of his greatest works, the Violin Concerto, Fourth Symphony, and the opera Eugene Onegin. But the emotional and professional upheavals of his life had taken a toll, and he entered a period of creative exhaustion. For several years, the flood of works from his pen slowed to a trickle.

The idea for a Fifth Symphony seems to have occurred in early 1888. Ten years had passed since had passed since the composition of his fourth symphony. Tchaikovsky’s letters reveal his fears that he was “dried up” and “written out,” but he was not ready to give up just yet. A letter to his brother, dated May 27, included the news that he was “hoping to collect, little by little, material for a symphony.” A few weeks later he wrote, “Now I shall work my hardest.I am exceedingly anxious to prove to myself, as to others, that I am not played out as a composer … The beginning was difficult, but now inspiration seems to have come.”

Once inspiration came, Tchaikovsky, as usual, was able to work very quickly. A sketch of the symphony was finished within six weeks, with the full score being completed quickly. Tchaikovsky was decidedly pleased with the effort: “I have not blundered, it has turned out well,” he wrote. Unfortunately, his reaction to the November premiere in St. Petersburg revealed that he had not overcome his tendency toward self-doubt. “I have come to the conclusion,” he wrote, “that it is a failure. There is something repellent, something superfluous, patchy and insecure, which the public instinctively recognizes. It was obvious to me that the ovations I received were prompted more by my earlier work, and that the Symphony itself did not really please the audience. This realization brings a sharp twinge of dissatisfaction with myself. Am I really played out, as they say?”

It took a performance in Hamburg the following year to finally bring him around. The orchestra was much better prepared than at the St. Petersburg performance, and the new symphony was enthusiastically received by both the audience and critics. Even Brahms, who loathed Tchaikovsky, was less critical than usual. “The Fifth Symphony was magnificently played,” Tchaikovsky reported, “and I like it far better now.” A striking feature of the symphony, and a unique one for Tchaikovsky, is the use of a “motto,” a theme which recurs in various transformations in every movement of the symphony. Tchaikovsky’s sketches include a marginal note that gives this theme a tantalizing significance: “Introduction. Complete resignation before Fate, or, which is the same, before the inscrutable predestination of Providence. Allegro. (1) Murmurs of doubt, complaints, reproaches against XXX. (2) Shall I throw myself in the embraces of faith??? A wonderful program, if only it can be carried out.”

This is the only apparent clue to a possible program for the symphony, but there is no indication that it was “carried out” any further. It seems reasonable to describe the recurring theme as a “Fate motive,” as almost all commentators do. It is heard at the beginning in a foreboding, apprehensive mood. It recurs in the second movement as a brutal interruption of a moment of heartfelt expression. We hear it again near the end of the third movement as a ghostly presence hovering around the edges of a waltz tune, and in the finale as the subject of a ceremonial march. Tchaikovsky left us a detailed program for the Fourth Symphony, revolving around man’s struggle with Fate, but with the Fifth we have nothing to go on. Perhaps it would be best to “Let him guess it who can,” as Tchaikovsky would suggest in connection with his next, and last, symphony.

The symphony begins with a slow introduction, including a single statement of the Fate theme by two clarinets in unison in their low register, simply accompanied by low strings. The mood is somber, gray and colorless. The first movement proper gets under way as the tempo quickens, and clarinet and bassoon introduce a theme which, while still somber, has an infectious rhythmic lilt. The theme builds to a rousing climax, and is followed by a complete contrast, one of those tender, yearning themes in the strings which Tchaikovsky does so well. The development section is extended and complex, described by Edward Downs as “a battlefield of rhythms and sonorities.” Both themes are heard, often in combination. A solo bassoon introduces the recapitulation, which is fairly straightforward, but is followed by a long coda which builds to a brilliant climax, only to sink away to an e-minor triad, unusually voiced in the lowest register of the orchestra.

The second movement again begins with somber, low chords, which suddenly give way to a gorgeous, romantic theme in the solo horn. Lovely as this theme is, it has a strange, unfinished quality to it. The theme it never really comes to a proper conclusion but always gives way to a secondary theme which turns out to be the more important of the two. This is a movement built around long buildups to ever larger climaxes, which tend to be wiped out by unexpected reappearances of the Fate motive, until the movement finally comes to an end in a mood of resigned contentment.

As an antidote to the intense heat of the second movement, something cooler, was needed. Tchaikovsky supplied with a Waltz in place of the traditional Scherzo. The principal theme is based on a tune he heard sung by a Florentine street urchin during a trip to Italy several years earlier. This is not music of deep emotion, but there is a sense of melancholy which is never entirely absent. After a lighter, almost Mendelssohn like trio, the principal theme returns, and the Fate motive makes a brief but unmistakable appearance just before the end.

The Finale is long, formally complex, and draining. Few symphonic movements are as exhausting, for both performer and listener as this. The Fate motive is heard at the outset, now in a major key and cast as a stately, triumphant processional. The main body of the movement gets underway with a sudden quickening of tempo and a return to the minor mode. What follows is a normal sonata form with two contrasting themes and a development section that treats both themes and the Fate motive. Despite the normality of its form, this is music of unrelenting momentum. Buildups are followed by bigger buildups, climaxes by greater climaxes, until a series of emphatic major triads is followed by a sudden silence. At this point a sizable portion of the audience begins applauding, being fooled into thinking the symphony is over. Tchaikovsky, however, has one more surprise. The Fate motive is heard a final time, now transformed into a grandiose march of triumph. A Presto coda follows, featuring several more long buildups, until the symphony finally ends with trumpets, quadruple fortissimo, recalling he principal theme of the first movement, bringing the symphony full circle.

History of Clapping

One of the first things many of us learn to do as babies is clap. As we age, we learn that clapping is an acceptable way to show appreciation and happiness. We clap at a sporting event when our team scores. We clap at a political rally when a speaker makes a point we appreciate. We clap at a popular music concert when our favorite artist plays a great song. But sometimes it can be confusing as to when clapping is appropriate.

History of Clapping

For instance, does one clap when Hamlet finishes his soliloquy in a modern Shakespearean performance? And at what point should one clap at the symphony? And where is the line between a small, polite clap and a roaring applause complete with hoots and hollers? Here at Carmel Symphony Orchestra (CSO), we understand these can be difficult distinctions and the worry of doing the wrong thing might deter our audience members from fully enjoying their experience. Today we’d like to take a moment to explore the history of applause, and help you better understand how and when to clap at one of our performances.

The exact beginning of applause is a little uncertain, but we know it was first documented in the third century B.C., with the works of Roman playwright Plautus ending with the word plaudite, a directive for the audience to applaud or clap. A performer would announce to the audience at the end that it was time to applaud. Applauding consisted of hand clapping and finger snapping.As time passed, the practice followed into politics. In first century A.D. and beyond, audience members would clap for politicians speaking in the theater. These politicians would gauge their popularity based on how much applause they and their opponent received.

Over time applause evolved from sedate hand clapping and finger snapping to include stomping, trilling, and chants of praise. It was not uncommon for a performer during Roman times to employ the service of a claque, a group of paid audience members who would cheer and clap, to motivate the rest of the audience to applaud. Think of the modern-day sitcom laugh track. These people would manipulate the general audience by their paid reactions. This practice went on to become a standard in French theater and opera in the seventeenth and eighteen centuries.

Later in the eighteenth century, artists such as Mozart expected people to be loud at his performances. Not only was applause and cheering encouraged and appreciated, but concerts were seen as a social gathering. Friends would chat and even eat while an artist performed. However, these performances were more intimate and often commissioned by the host as entertainment for their dinner party.

Over the next hundred years, orchestral concerts became more of what they are today, larger gatherings of the general public. With more people and louder sounds, some artists became frustrated and distracted by the cheers and applause. Others demanded no applause during performances as a way to discourage claques. Now that the masses were able to attend performances, the social elite began to stay quiet and reserved as a way to distinguish themselves from the lower classes in attendance.

When is clapping appropriate?

This reserved attitude became the standard for orchestral performances from that point into modern times. However, we at Carmel Symphony Orchestra believe music is a thing to be felt, loved, and enjoyed. A trip to the symphony does not need to be a stuffy experience. Just as you are no longer expected to wear frock coats or corsets (though, if that’s what makes you feel comfortable we have no problem with it!), you no longer should feel the need to stifle your appreciation. Let’s take a cue from the Romans. If you feel moved by the music, let us know!

Cheers, clapping, finger snapping, whatever you’d like! We encourage you to enjoy yourself and feel comfortable when you are at a Carmel Symphony Orchestra performance.

Want to know more before you head to a concert with the CSO? Explore our Symphony 101 blog.

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