Cognitive Daily

Music history quiz, via the LSAT

When we were in Vienna this past summer, we were surprised to learn that in Mozart’s time, symphonic concerts were often mish-mashes: single movements and “greatest hits” arias instead of complete works. Audiences applauded after each movement. We saw a reenactment of such a concert, in 18th-century costumes:


If only we had been studying for the LSAT, we might not have had to read the program notes. Apparently the reading comprehension items in a recent study guide focused on how music was performed at the turn of the 19th century:

A. The final movements of symphonies by Mozart and Beethoven might be played more slowly by today’s orchestras if which one of the following were to occur?

  1. orchestras were to use instruments no more advanced in design than those used by orchestras at the time Mozart and Beethoven composed their symphonies
  2. audiences were to return to the custom of applauding at the end of each movement of a symphony
  3. audiences were to reserve their most entusiastic applause for the most brilliantly played finales
  4. conductors were to return to the practice of playing the chords on an orchestral piano to keep the orchestra together
  5. conductors were to conduct the symphonies in the manner in which Beethoven and Mozart had conducted them

Another question follows below.

B. The modern audience’s tendency to withhold applause until the end of a symphony’s performance is primarily related to which one of the following?

  1. the replacement of the orchestral piano as a method of keeping the orchestra together
  2. a gradual increase since the time of Mozart and Beethoven in audiences’ expectations regarding the ability of orchestral musicians
  3. a change since the early nineteenth century in audiences’ concepts of musical excitement and intensity
  4. a more sophisticated appreciation of the structural integrity of the symphony as a piece of music
  5. the tendency of orchestral musicians to employ their most brilliant effects in the early movements of symphonies composed by Mozart and Beethoven

Give us your best guesses in the comments. Thanks to Scott Spiegelberg for the link. Also on Scott’s blog is this fascinating tidbit:

Michael Schutz and Scott Lipscomb have published a study that shows how percussionists use visual cues to make audiences think notes are of different lengths, when the actual notes are the same duration. A world-class percussionist was video-taped performing long and short notes. The video was split into visual and audio components, which were then cross-matched so Long note visuals were sometimes matched with Short note audio and vice-versa. Listeners were told that some of the videos had mismatched visual and audio cues, and were instructed to judge duration solely by the sound. However, the duration ratings varied according to visual cues rather than audio cues.

So just the way you look when you play a note on a percussion instrument affects the perceived duration of the note.

More on Lipscomb’s work here.


  1. #1 brent
    September 18, 2007

    Nothing new:

    Davidson JW. 1993. Visual perception of performance manner in the movements of solo musicians. Psychol. Music 21: 103- 13

    Our love of recorded music has so degraded our idea of what music is that the idea that the player’s movements that *don’t* make sound are also expressive is “fascinating.” The McGurk effect is as old as dirt, but music somehow still seems magically above such paltry embodiment. Expressive performance, be it linguistic, athletic, or musical is a physical and physiological thing. And music is a human art.

    Easy way to end up in this silly news cycle: Demonstrate that the attractiveness of the performer influences how beautiful the listener judges the music to be. Video camera, a few pretty and a few not-so-pretty musicians playing the same thing, a couple hours with MovieMaker, and 40 undergrad judges. Bonus points for some sort of interaction by gender. Worth a couple publications and at least 15 minutes of fame.

  2. #2 M Wilson
    September 18, 2007

    wouldn’t we need to read the paragraph to answer? or is this a test for how many of your readers have working knowledge of 18th and 19th century music etiquette? I’m going with 1. and 3.

  3. #3 Dave Munger
    September 18, 2007

    M Wilson:

    Form/Content didn’t reprint the entire passage, so I don’t really know what the answer is. I was hoping some readers could offer insight. Though you can see Spiegelberg’s answers on Form/Content.


    I think it’s interesting that even the musicians aren’t aware of what they’re doing. But you make a good point. Probably would be even better if the same soundtrack was played during your proposed experiment.

  4. #4 Marina @ Sufficient Thrust
    September 18, 2007

    How are these reading comprehension questions if there’s nothing to read first?

    My guesses are #2 and #3, respectively.

  5. #5 Dave Munger
    September 18, 2007

    They are reading comprehension items, but since I don’t have the reading passage, I reappropriated them as a test of knowledge. Sorry for the confusion.

  6. #6 sasha
    September 18, 2007

    for A, I’m pretty sure #2 is the wrong answer. the question asks why the *final movements* would be played more slowly, but #2 would extend the time *between* movements, without necessarily making the final movement itself any longer. my bet’s on #1, but I’d need to read the rest of the passage, because it could also be 4 or 5, I think.

    for B, I think the answer is #4.

  7. #7 Natalie
    September 19, 2007

    Just based on my LSAT experience, I’m going to guess that the answers are #1 and #4 (or maybe #2?).

  8. #8 Freiddie
    September 19, 2007

    I have never actually heard of any LSAT, or know anything about it. The questions require quite a little thinking, but my final guess: A 1 and B 4.
    – just plain guessing.

  9. #9 Scott Spiegelberg
    September 19, 2007

    for A, I’m pretty sure #2 is the wrong answer. the question asks why the *final movements* would be played more slowly, but #2 would extend the time *between* movements, without necessarily making the final movement itself any longer.

    If the audiences applaud between each movement, some musical signal is needed to signify the end of the entire symphony. Thus a large ritard at the end of the final movement would show that the “big finale” has been reached. Also, there are theories about proper proportions of time spent resolving the tensions, leading to lengthy repeated tonic chords at the end of a long symphony movement. The extra time taken up with applause could cause an inbalance in that proportion, requiring a slower tempo for the final tonic chords so they can balance the previous tensions.

  10. #10 Esteban Veliz
    September 19, 2007

    My conjecture is: A{#2}; B{#4}. Now I may be setting myself up for a shot in the foot, but in spite of not having the relevant passage, it seems to me you can assume that the your answers to both of the questions should be related, ergo answering #1 for A seems incorrect. But of course the main reasoning behind my answers (and concomitantly, my opinion that #1 is wrong) has to do with other issues.

    First of all, I fail to see how instrument design will affect a musician’s tempo; second of all, we do know one thing: that in fact audiences in the 18th century did applaud after every movement (as stated in Dave’s program notes. And that coupled with my own experience of being a musician (though admittedly, not classical) and being around many musicians both classically trained and not, any musician that doesn’t use a metronome is likely to lose track of tempo and speed things up as a piece intensifies; having applause in between seems both to function as a likely “control” to reset that phenomenon which I find to be akin to “ghost traffic” (if anything, a musician is going to “catch up” to the faster orchestra, not slow down, with these overcompensation increments slowly building as the individual cars anticipatory and overcompensating braking builds). That is, if applause comes in between movements, them musicians have an outside noise interrupting that collective perception of time, which would seem to arise emergently as the musicians are both acting and reacting with one another for the whole.

    However, I concede that I may have thought this through too thoroughly using no outside sources (nor did anyone applaud in between my writing this) and have developed myopia along the way.

  11. #11 Ariel Farrar
    October 29, 2007

    5 and 3? So when do we find out the answer… tomorrow I hope?

  12. #12 Ariel Farrar
    October 29, 2007

    Ok, I feel a little silly. I forgot I was reading backlogs. But I looked for the answers and I couldn’t find them… so what were there? Or is there a link where you explain?

  13. #13 stewart
    November 26, 2007

    I’ll go for 5 and 4. I see this wasn’t posted as a test of reading comprehension but as knowledge (and ability to look at alternatives). Your earlier point suggests 2 and 4, but the applause doesn’t require that the movements be played more slowly. (and I’m guessing, not knowing)
    Thanks for the fun, ad the opportunities for embarrassment.

  14. #14 ScienceWoman
    November 26, 2007

    I’ll guess 4 and 3. And now I want to know the answer.

  15. #15 Dave Munger
    November 27, 2007

    I can’t believe this post is actually one of the “most emailed”…

    Anyway, by popular request, the answers, according to Scott Spiegelberg in the comments on the linked post, are 2 and 4. Scott is a music professor so I’m trusting he’s right.

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