List of classical music concerts with an unruly audience response

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Riots at the Royal Opera House, 1763

There have been many notable instances of unruly behaviour at classical music concerts, often at the premiere of a new work or production.

18th century[edit]

Composer Title Date Location Details
Thomas Arne Artaxerxes February 24, 1763 London At the revival of Thomas Arne's opera Artaxerxes, a mob protesting the abolition of half-price admissions stormed the theatre in the middle of the performance.[1]

19th century[edit]

Composer Title Date Location Details
William Reeve Family Quarrels December 18, 1802 London Part of the Jewish audience catcalled because of perceived anti-Jewish slights.[2]
Gioachino Rossini The Barber of Seville February 20, 1816 Milan Many audience members were supporters of the elder composer Giovanni Paisiello who had written a Barber of Seville of his own. They shouted, heckled, hissed, and jeered at Rossini's new version.[3]
Daniel Auber La muette de Portici August 25, 1830 Brussels Audience members at a performance in Brussels left before the end of the opera to join planned riots that were already taking place across the city, marking the beginning of the Belgian Revolution.[4]
Hector Berlioz Benvenuto Cellini September 10, 1838 Paris The audience hissed at most of the music after the first few numbers.[5]
Arrigo Boito Mefistofele March 5, 1868 Milan The audience came predisposed to drown out Boito's claquers and succeeded in making the music inaudible with their hisses and boos.[6][7][8]

20th century[edit]

Composer Title Date Location Details
Francesco Balilla Pratella Musica Futurista March 9, 1913 Rome At the second performance of the work, the audience booed and threw garbage at the orchestra, and some fighting occurred.[9][10]
Alban Berg Altenberg Lieder March 31, 1913 Vienna As part of a front in Vienna's ongoing style wars, the audience booed and catcalled loudly, and some punches were thrown. The event came to be known as the Skandalkonzert.[11]
Igor Stravinsky The Rite of Spring May 29, 1913 Paris Dueling factions tried to drown each other out during the ballet's premiere, unwittingly launching generations of exaggerations of what actually happened in the hall that night.[12][13][14]
Sergei Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 2 September 5, 1913 St. Petersburg The work was met with hisses and catcalls.[15]
Luigi Russolo The Awakening of a City, The Meeting of Automobiles and Aeroplanes April 21, 1914 Milan A concert organized by the Futurists to provide the first public demonstration of their experimental "noise-making" instruments called intonarumori resulted in an expected fracas,[16] with Futurists led by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti fighting members of the audience in the stalls.[17]
Erik Satie Parade May 18, 1917 Paris One faction of the audience booed, hissed, and was generally unruly, but they were eventually silenced by an enthusiastic ovation.[18][19]
Edgard Varèse Hyperprism March 4, 1923 New York The audience laughed throughout and hissed at the conclusion, which prompted Varèse to repeat the work in hopes of a more serious response.[20]
George Antheil Sonata Sauvage October 4, 1923 Paris Very raucous physical altercations and verbal fights broke out within three minutes of Antheil playing, with many distinguished guests in attendance. Artist Man Ray reportedly punched a man in the nose, Marcel Duchamp began hurling obscenities at a fellow audience member, and Erik Satie was heard shouting, "What precision! What precision!"[21]
Henry Cowell Antinomy October 15, 1923 Leipzig The audience threw program notes at Cowell and clambered onto the stage, leading to a large physical altercation and the arrest of over 20 audience members.[22]
Henry Cowell Five Encores to Dynamic Motion October 31, 1923 Vienna An audience member began screaming at Cowell, "Stop! Stop!" and would not be quiet when shushed by audience members, leading to an attempt to drown one other out with continuous catcalling.[23]
Erik Satie Mercure June 15, 1924 Paris The police were called to the premiere due to unruly behavior that sprung from the Parisian cultural infighting of the time.[24]
George Antheil Ballet Mécanique June 19, 1926 Paris The premiere performance received a large ovation despite some unruly behavior in the audience, including an outburst by Ezra Pound, but there were some fistfights in the street after the concert.[25]
Béla Bartók The Miraculous Mandarin November 27, 1926 Cologne The plot caused a commotion in the audience, which began leaving during the performance.[26]
Kurt Weill Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny March 9, 1930 Leipzig Organized bands of right-wing agitators planted themselves in the audience and created a large commotion, directed towards the opera's supposed anti-German sentiment. It was subsequently banned by the Nazis in 1933.[27][28]
Igor Stravinsky Danses concertantes February 27, 1945 Paris A group of students from Olivier Messiaen's class, including Serge Nigg and Pierre Boulez, protested noisily with police whistles against the neoclassical style of the compositions.[29]
Igor Stravinsky Four Norwegian Moods March 15, 1945 Paris Same as above.
Pierre Boulez Polyphonie X October 6, 1951 Donaueschingen Musicologist Antoine Goléa, who attended the concert, recalled: "Those who experienced this Donaueschingen première will remember the scandal as long as they live. Shouts, caterwauling, and other animal noises were unleashed from one half of the hall in response to applause, foot-stamping and enthusiastic bravos from the other".[30] Boulez was unable to attend, but, after hearing a tape of the concert, decided to withdraw the piece.[30]
Edgard Varèse Déserts December 2, 1954 Paris The audience loudly booed and jeered the piece.[31]
Luigi Nono Intolleranza 1960' April 13, 1961 Venice The opera's premiere was disrupted by shouts from a neo-fascist faction in the audience.[32][33]
John Cage Atlas Eclipticalis February 6, 1964 New York Part of an avant-garde season of music featuring the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein, most performances had received lukewarm responses. This one, with Cage as performer, was met with boos and hisses. Allegedly, the orchestra failed to take the music seriously, and in so doing, effectively sabotaged it. The event was recorded, and released as part of a Bernstein retrospective set.[34][35]
Hans Werner Henze Das Floß der Medusa December 9, 1968 Hamburg Students hung a Che Guevara banner, the Red, and Black flags, and after the chorus responded in protest, the police began making arrests, prompting Henze to cancel the concert.[36]
Steve Reich Four Organs January 18, 1973 New York At a Carnegie Hall performance of the work, the conservative audience tried yelling and sarcastically applauding to hasten the end of the piece, which received both boos and cheers during the ovation.[37] One of the performers, Michael Tilson Thomas, recalls: "One woman walked down the aisle and repeatedly banged her head on the front of the stage, wailing 'Stop, stop, I confess.' "[38][39]
John Adams Grand Pianola Music 1982 New York Premiere of the piece at the Horizons Festival, held at Lincoln Center, New York. Audience was booing and cheering.[40]

21st century[edit]

Composer Title Date Location Details
Giuseppe Verdi Aida December 10, 2006 Milan When tenor Roberto Alagna's opening aria "Celeste Aida" was booed by the loggionisti in the opera house's less expensive seats, he walked off stage while the music was still playing. Understudy Antonello Palombi, in a black dress shirt and slacks, came on a few seconds later to replace him. Alagna did not return to the production.[41]
Steve Reich Piano Phase February 29, 2016 Cologne During a performance of the piece by Iranian harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani in the Kölner Philharmonie, parts of the crowd clapped, whistled, and walked out. Esfahani, as he introduced the piece in English, had been ordered by a heckler to speak in German. Loud arguments between numerous members of the crowd persisted for several minutes; Esfahani stopped his performance and started playing a concerto by C. P. E. Bach instead. He attributed the 'pandemonium' to the choice of a modern composition, while the German media inferred a xenophobic motive.[42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Gentleman's Magazine, February 1763, vol. XXXIII, p. 97 – via HathiTrust
  2. ^ Chancellor, V. E. (2002). "Anti-Racialism or Censorship? The 1802 Jewish Riots at Covent Garden Opera and the Career of Thomas John Dibdin". The Opera Quarterly. 18 (1): 18–25. doi:10.1093/oq/18.1.18. S2CID 191511631.
  3. ^ Osborne, Richard (2007). Rossini: His Life and Works. Oxford University Press. pp. 38–41. ISBN 978-0-19-518129-6.
  4. ^ Slatin, Sonia (1979). "Opera and revolution: La Muette de Portici and the Belgian revolution of 1830 revisited". Journal of Musicological Research. 3 (1–2): 45–62 [53–54]. doi:10.1080/01411897908574506.
  5. ^ Wasselin, Christian, "Benvenuto Cellini" on the Hector Berlioz website for a more detailed inside story of the opera
  6. ^ Halperson, Maurice. "The Romance of Music, 56", Musical America, September 8, 1917.
  7. ^ Nicolaisen, Jay (1978). "The First Mefistofele". 19th-Century Music. 1 (3): 221–232 [221–222]. doi:10.2307/746412. JSTOR 746412.
  8. ^ Kennedy, Michael; Kennedy, Joyce; Rutherford-Johnson, Tim, eds. (2013). "Boito, Arrigo". The Oxford Dictionary of Music. Oxford University Press. p. 99. ISBN 978-0-19-957854-2.
  9. ^ Payton, Rodney J. (1976). "The Music of Futurism: Concerts and Polemics". The Musical Quarterly. 62 (1): 25–45. doi:10.1093/mq/LXII.1.25. JSTOR 741598.
  10. ^ Music of the Twentieth-century Avant-garde: A Biocritical Sourcebook. Greenwood Publishing Group. 2002. p. 415. ISBN 9780313296895.
  11. ^ Barker, Andrew (1997). "Battles of the Mind: Berg and the Cultural Politics of 'Vienna 1900'", The Cambridge Companion to Berg, p. 24. Pople, Anthony, ed. ISBN 0-521-56489-1.
  12. ^ Bullard, Truman (1971). The first performance of Igor Stravinsky's Sacre du printemps. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Ann Arbor University (microfilm copy). OCLC 937514.
  13. ^ Pieter C. van den Toorn, Stravinsky and The Rite of Spring, Chapter 1: Point of Order
  14. ^ 100 Years After The Riot, The 'Rite' Remains : Deceptive Cadence : NPR
  15. ^ Steinberg, Michael. "Program notes Archived 2016-06-05 at the Wayback Machine", San Francisco Symphony.
  16. ^ Nice, James. "Music Futurista: The Art of Noises". Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  17. ^ Thorn, Benjamin (2002). "Luigi Russolo (1885-1947)". In Larry Sitsky (ed.). Music of the Twentieth-century Avant-garde: A Biocritical Sourcebook. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 415. ISBN 978-0-313-29689-5.
  18. ^ Peterkin, Norman (1919). "Erik Satie's 'Parade'". The Musical Times. 60 (918): 426–427 [426]. doi:10.2307/3701903. JSTOR 3701903.
  19. ^ "Springtime in Paris: Erik Satie". 2000-03-01. Retrieved 2014-01-14.
  20. ^ "Taxi Toots Sound Sweet After Music By Composers Guild: Many Hisses Greet Conclusion of 'Hyperprism'; Dissenters Told to Leave and Piece Is Played Over Again", New-York Tribune, March 5, 1923.
  21. ^ Rischitelli, p. 40
  22. ^ Rischitelli (2005), p. 26.
  23. ^ Sachs, p. 117
  24. ^ Orledge, Robert (1998). "Erik Satie's Ballet Mercure (1924): From Mount Etna to Montmartre". Journal of the Royal Musical Association. 123 (2): 229–249. doi:10.1093/jrma/123.2.229. JSTOR 766416.
  25. ^ Key, Susan, Larry Rothe, and Thomas M. Tilson. American Mavericks. San Francisco, California: San Francisco Symphony, 2001.
  26. ^ Vinton, John (January 1964). "The Case of the Miraculous Mandarin". The Musical Quarterly. 50 (1): 13. doi:10.1093/mq/L.1.1.
  27. ^ "Decadence and Decay: Kurt Weill's Mahagonny". NPR.
  28. ^ Drew, David (January 1963). "The History of Mahahonny". The Musical Times. 184 (1439): 18–24. doi:10.2307/951087. JSTOR 951087.
  29. ^ Sprout, Leslie A. (Winter 2009). "The 1945 Stravinsky Debates: Nigg, Messiaen, and the Early Cold War in France". The Journal of Musicology. 26 (1): 86. doi:10.1525/jm.2009.26.1.85.
  30. ^ a b Jameux, Dominique (1991). Pierre Boulez. Translated by Susan Bradshaw. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp. 47–48. ISBN 0-674-66740-9.
  31. ^ Mattis, Olivia (1992). "Varèse's Multimedia Conception of Déserts". The Musical Quarterly. 76 (4): 557–583 [557]. doi:10.1093/mq/76.4.557.
  32. ^ Boyden, Matthew, and Nick Kimberly. The Rough Guide to Opera, Rough Guides, 2002, p. 550.
  33. ^ "Luigi Nono". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2014. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
  34. ^ John Cage, Antonin Becvar, and Leonard Bernstein Walk into a Bar,
  35. ^ Cage: Atlas Eclipticalis (audio) on YouTube, New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein; Bernstein's introduction to Cage starts at 9:00 minutes.
  36. ^ Ernst Schnabel, "Zum Untergang einer Uraufführung" and "Postscriptum nach dreiunddreissig Tagen", in Hans Werner Henze and Ernst Schnabel, Das Floss der Medusa: Text zum Oratorium, 47–61 & 65–79 (Munich: Piper-Verlag, 1969);
    Andrew Porter, "Henze: The Raft of the Frigate 'Medusa' – Oratorio" [record review of DGG 139428-9], Gramophone 47, no. 563 (April 1970): 1625;
    Anon. "Affären/Henze: Sie bleibt", Der Spiegel 22, no. 51 (16 December 1968): 152. (in German)
  37. ^ Schonberg, Harold. "Music: A Concert Fuss: Piece by Reich Draws a Vocal Reaction" The New York Times, January 20, 1973.
  38. ^ Essay, Michael Tilson Thomas, 1997
  39. ^ "Steve Reich: the composer with his finger on the pulse" by David Shariatmadari, The Guardian, 26 October 2016
  40. ^ Frank J. Oteri (2001-01-01). "John Adams: In The Center Of American Music". NewMusicBox. Retrieved 2020-01-26.
  41. ^ Wakin, Daniel J. (December 13, 2006). "After La Scala Boos, a Tenor Boos Back". The New York Times. Retrieved January 31, 2018.
  42. ^ Lizzie Dearden (2016-03-03). "Iranian musician forced to stop Cologne concert after audience members jeer and shout 'speak German'". The Independent. Retrieved 2018-10-28.