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?
- orchestras were to use instruments no more advanced in design than those used by orchestras at the time Mozart and Beethoven composed their symphonies
- audiences were to return to the custom of applauding at the end of each movement of a symphony
- audiences were to reserve their most entusiastic applause for the most brilliantly played finales
- conductors were to return to the practice of playing the chords on an orchestral piano to keep the orchestra together
- 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?
- the replacement of the orchestral piano as a method of keeping the orchestra together
- a gradual increase since the time of Mozart and Beethoven in audiences’ expectations regarding the ability of orchestral musicians
- a change since the early nineteenth century in audiences’ concepts of musical excitement and intensity
- a more sophisticated appreciation of the structural integrity of the symphony as a piece of music
- the tendency of orchestral musicians to employ their most brilliant effects in the early movements of symphonies composed by Mozart and Beethoven
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.