ONE must feel a deal of sympathy for Frank Leavers (TV Bulletin Tuesday 10 August). It cannot have been good for the digestion of his desayuno to hear two talking heads, on BBC Breakfast Time, effectively anathematise him as a musically-ignorant pleb. I fear, though, that he goes on to over-do, however understandably, his criticism of their attitude.
I believe that in the early part of last century audiences used to applaud freely - and ask for encores - if a piece of music had more than one movement. Variations introduced by the performers to well-known pieces would not only be applauded, but a repeat would be demanded. Performers were often highly disappointed if their party piece failed to elicit a huge response. They wanted applause, if only to judge the mood of the audience and then, if necessary, vary the program accordingly.
Audiences more or less stopped applauding between movements somewhere around the early 1950's - no one seems quite sure why. Audiences in Holland appear to have given the lead, but some critics lay the blame on records. If one is listening to a recorded piece one is not going to be tempted to applaud each movement. But Mr. Leavers is right there is a sort of faux gentility involved also the fear that one's fellow concert-goers will laugh at one's ignorance of correct behavior.
That said there is a problem. As the late Jimmy Durante so presciently said Everybody wants to get in the act. Audience participation, which is very much a part of pop concerts, seems to be carrying over to concerts of serious music. Applauding between movements is one thing and maybe not a bad one, but clapping along with the music is another and very much to be condemned. Last year, at a concert in Xesc Forteza in Palma, a part of the audience started singing along with the soprano on one well-known aria! What next? Concert-goers stand up and wave cigarette lighters?
A point that should not be forgotten is that serious music is nowadays taken much more seriously by its performers and it would be no bad thing if audiences were required to take it somewhat more seriously also. It was not always so. Performers were once required and expected to play from memory and seldom played a piece the same way twice, as a result. The great Alfred Cortot was so bad at remembering what he was supposed to be playing that Sir Thomas Beecham once remarked. He started with the Beethoven, and I kept up with him through the Grieg, Schumann, Bach and Tchaikovsky, and then he started playing something I didn't know, so I stopped conducting. That sort of playing would not be tolerated by today's audiences. They expect professionals to play in a professional manner. Does that not impose an obligation in return?
In the end music, of whatever kind, is there to be enjoyed. No one's enjoyment will be spoiled if all of the audience members behave with good manners towards the musicians and each other.