Classical Music Needs More Silence

Music only exists as a contrast to silence. And sometimes silence is necessary to appreciate music. I always find it annoying that at a classical concert, as soon as the music is over, the audience doesn’t want to savor that fleeting moment after the sound has faded when there is a glorious silence. Instead, they rush into applause, in order to follow the ritual of the concert.

On classical CDs, I’ve noticed that there is often very little silence between tracks. In some cases, you don’t want much silence, such as between movements of a sonata or symphony. But in others, you do want silence. This is the case between works, or between short, single-movement pieces.

I’ve been listening to a lot of John Dowland lately. I love his lute music, and I plan to learn to play some of it on guitar. Listening recently to Jakob Lindberg’s excellent and inexpensive set on Brilliant Classics, licensed from Bis (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), I found myself wondering if something was wrong, if iTunes had stopped, or if my amplifier had shut off.

Because there was a lot of silence after some tracks; as much as 15 seconds or more. Listening to another set – Nigel North’s recordings on Naxos (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) – the pieces run much closer together.

Silence

Left: Nigel North. Right, Jakob Lindberg. Note the long silence at the end of the Lindberg track.

And it made me realize how much I miss silence on recordings. How, even between, say, Beethoven piano sonatas, there’s only a few seconds to let you appreciate what you’ve heard, and to notice that a new work is beginning.

In some rare cases, silence may need to be short to fit the music on a CD, but I doubt that this happens ofter. So saving, say, one minute on a disc of Dowland lute pieces won’t make a CD too long. But it’s a shame that the classical music industry won’t give more room to music.

I checked a number of rips of other Bis CDs, and it seems that there’s a trend. I have more than a dozen of their recordings of solo keyboard music by C. P. E. Bach, and they all have generous silence. So, perhaps it’s more that Robert van Bahr, the head of Bis Records, understands more than others that silence is needed.

It would be good for there to be more silence between works. Why not leave 30 seconds of silence between, say, two piano sonatas on a CD? Sure, people will wonder if everything is all right with their equipment, but they’ll eventually figure out that it’s not a bug but a feature.

6 thoughts on “Classical Music Needs More Silence

  1. I agree with you 100% Kirk, and BIS records have always understood the importance of a decent amount of silence between tracks.

  2. I agree with you 100% Kirk, and BIS records have always understood the importance of a decent amount of silence between tracks.

  3. I have rarely enjoyed as much the silences within another lute recording, “The Scottish Lute” by Ronn McFarlane on Dorian.

  4. I have rarely enjoyed as much the silences within another lute recording, “The Scottish Lute” by Ronn McFarlane on Dorian.

  5. Depends on the work, so I take it on a case by case basis. I like at least 10s between Mahler movements, but a Vivaldi Concerto not so much, maybe 1 or 2s. Anything more than 10s would be too much for me. Besides, there’s always the pause button.

    For rock or pop I like a .5s head and tail for each song. I grew up listening to music on the radio where dead air is a big no no. Maybe that training is why producers avoid silence on recordings.

  6. Depends on the work, so I take it on a case by case basis. I like at least 10s between Mahler movements, but a Vivaldi Concerto not so much, maybe 1 or 2s. Anything more than 10s would be too much for me. Besides, there’s always the pause button.

    For rock or pop I like a .5s head and tail for each song. I grew up listening to music on the radio where dead air is a big no no. Maybe that training is why producers avoid silence on recordings.

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