Friday, April 19, 2013

Worshipful Silence

The April 17th episode of Noise: A Human History on BBC Radio 4 gives a tart history of listening to classical music in worshipful silence, a convention that arose in the 19th century.

In 1808, audiences in Frankfurt were issued with these printed instructions:
During literary or musical performances, everyone is asked to refrain from speaking. Applause, too, expresses itself better through attentiveness than the clapping of hands. Signs of disapproval are not to be expected. Dogs are not tolerated.
In New York in 1857, the Philharmonic Orchestra tried another approach, encouraging concert goers to start policing themselves:
The remedy lies with the audience itself. If each little neighborhood would take care of itself & promptly frown down the few chance disturbers of its pleasures, perfect order would soon be procured.
Prof. David Hendy, the series author, can only conclude it's plain old snobbery:
To be able to keep still and listen showed you were an altogether more refined person, not just sensitive to the emotions of music, but -- well -- a person of class.
§ Noise: A Human History
Prof. David Hendy
The New Art of Listening, 17 Apr 13, 2013


John Marcher said...

Whenever I'm reminded of how it used to be, espcially in the opera house, which really only changed with Toscaninni, it makes curious to experience it as it was. And then I come to my senses.

Axel Feldheim said...

This could be the next step in historically informed performance practice: recreating original performance conditions. Leave the house lights up, let people wander in out, eat, chat, & generally release the audience from the expectation that they have to listen to the music. Could be quite liberating for the audience.