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Are there any specific guidelines on how much space should be put between movements of a piece? Sometimes, this is indicated in the score. But usually, it has to be interpreted from the music and the composer has left it up in the air.

I know this is a vague question and habits between different performers vary greatly. Therefore, perhaps the question should be better phrased as: Are there any styles of music or pieces where we definitely know that there should be no space left between movements? The rest may be guesswork...

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Assuming no segue or attaca markings, then indeed there is space of indeterminate time between movements.

Generally, the fact that this clean break between pieces of music exists indicates that the artistic link between the two movements is not dependent on time. In other words, if the composer had intended for a certain amount of time to be taken for artistic and musical reasons, this would have been notated differently.

The traditional approach is to simply take whatever reasonable time you need in order to prepare to play the next movement. For a piano player, this might be as little as taking the hands off the keyboard, physically relaxing and "resetting", and then continuing. For an instrumental or vocal soloist, it might be taking a sip of water, or making an adjustment to the instrument. At most, a symphony orchestra might even retune the strings after a particularly long and intense movement (since string instruments go out of tune gradually as they are played).

What you don't want to do is stand around doing nothing, or staring at the audience. That might prompt them to misinterpret the end of the piece and start applauding. (god forbid!) Make it a series of actions and it'll come out fine.

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  • Funny you mention the audience applauding-- I've become an advocate of "free-form applause," i.e. encouraging the audience to applaud whenever they want to. The customs vary wildly right now, as applause is expected after every major number in opera, and after any good solo in jazz ensemble, but there's still the stiff-necked BeQuietForever rule for classical ensembles. I say Poo on That - let the audience cheer when they want to! Oct 15 '13 at 13:24
  • Interesting, @CarlWitthoft. I've never thought about letting them. :) So, a quick Google search came up with this link, which I will quote: "In earlier times people applauded between movements of symphonies," said University of Chicago emeritus music professor and historian Philip Gossett. "Composers allowed you to do that. This has happened less and less in the 20th century, when people have considered a work as a whole and don't applaud until the end." Oct 15 '13 at 14:14
  • Also: Gossett said the practice of remaining silent stems from the German tradition, a dominant influence on the American classical scene starting in the mid-19th century. Composer Richard Wagner extended the notion that these works were sacred and deserving of reverence, Gossett said, noting: "Great art had to be taken as great art, and therefore you could not applaud between movements," Gossett said. Oct 15 '13 at 14:18
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    Indeed -- I was only alluding to the standard performance practice in use now. Certainly I don't mean to say that's how it should be!
    – NReilingh
    Oct 16 '13 at 0:08

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