Until half a century or so ago crowds applauded after every movement. And why shouldn’t the audience be able to unleash its bravos or reward a smoking instrumental solo in real time? In Bach’s day there was no such hushed reverence. The audience – maybe not in a church, but certainly in venues like Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, where he performed many of his works – drank, smoked, circulated, chatted, and occasionally groaned that Bach was going off on one of his convoluted fugal tangents again, or burst into applause over one of his finger-sprinting solos.
The only way to take classical music out of the museum is to stop playing it in a museum. The adventurous cellist Matt Haimovitz said as much recently, when he toured dive bars, pizza parlours, and roadhouse juke joints with the Cello Suites. ‘People were reacting to the music as it was going by,’ Haimovitz told CBC Radio, ‘and if they really enjoyed something or were impressed by something, they howled or whistled or sighed, and yet they were totally riveted to the music.’
– Eric Siblin, The Cello Suites