Re: the post on intra-symphonic applause below, Felix Salmon reminds me that he and Terry Teachout debated this matter back in 2003. Terry, pro-applause, quoted the great conductor Pierre Monteux: "I do have one big complaint about audiences in all countries, and that is their artificial restraint from applause between movements or a concerto or symphony. I don’t know where the habit started, but it certainly does not fit in with the composers’ intentions." Felix worried that the culture of applause could get out of hand, leading to intrusive clapping after every movement and indiscriminate standing ovations such as you find on Broadway. The latter case is a separate issue. I've often been to orchestral concerts where the audience supplies a standing ovation that to my taste isn't warranted. (But: musicians work incredibly hard, and they always deserve applause. There's only one "etiquette" rule that every neophyte should learn: never walk out with your back turned while the musicians are taking their bows, unless you wish to deliver an in-your-face insult. A lot of self-styled "serious" listeners who pride themselves on remaining perfectly quiet throughout a Mahler marathon commit this incredibly rude behavior.) I wouldn't necessarily want applause after every movement, but that's the way audiences did it before 1900, and classical culture was far healthier in that period. See Greg Sandow's blog for a hair-raising description of how audiences acted in eighteenth-century Italy (quoted from the new Taruskin). Is it a paradox that composers of past eras wrote so much astounding music while audiences, by our standards, "misbehaved"? Or was there a direct relationship between the unruliness of the audience and the greatness of the music? The latter, methinks. Our "standards" are corrupt and need to be junked.
It's an interesting question, how this silent routine got started. In my article "Listen To This," I alluded to the strange behavior of audiences at the premiere performances in Parsifal in 1882. I think it began there and then spread to orchestral culture. From Cosima Wagner's diary: "When, after the second act, there is much noise and calling, R. comes to the balustrade, says that though the applause is very welcome to his artists and to himself, they had agreed, in order not to impinge on the impression, not to take a bow, so that there would be no 'curtain calls'. ... At the end R. is vexed by the silent audience, which has misunderstood him; he once again addresses it from the gallery, and when the applause then breaks out and there are continual calls R. appears in front of the curtain and says that he tried to assemble his artists, but they were by now half undressed. The journey home, taken up with this subject, is a vexed one." Two days later: "After the first act there is a reverent silence, which has a pleasant effect. But when, after the second, the applauders again are hissed, it becomes embarrassing." Two weeks later: "R. had a restless night. He feels so languid that he does not attend the performance, just appears during the intermissions, and the only thing he hears all through is the flower scene, since the excellence of the performance always refreshes him. From our box he calls out, "Bravo!," whereupon he is hissed. ... R.'s mood is changeable, but on the whole biased against Bayreuth — indeed, he even talks of handing over Parsifal and the festival theater to Herr Neumann!" I can't think of a better example of nincompoop pseudo-seriousness than the idea of a Bayreuth audience inadvertently hissing Richard Wagner himself.
On a related matter, see my short piece "Concert Rage." People who "shush" are just as annoying as people who chatter and crinkle cough-drop-wrappers; no, more annoying. Often I hear a "shush" wafting down from the upper gallery without hearing whatever minor disturbance caused it. Shushing is like honking in a traffic jam: it just adds to the problem.