And… that cadence means it’s halftime, concert-goers!


In college, one of my classmates (who is now the conductor of an orchestra, so I guess that whole music thing worked out for him) coined the term halftime to refer to a resounding cadence in the first half of a piece, the type of cadence that might fool an inattentive or unseasoned listener into thinking that the piece is over, when in fact it's just getting started. We're not talking about a false ending, which is comparatively easy to find, but rather a "big finish" when we're nowhere near the finish.

Also sprach Zarathustra has a big halftime cadence, complete with a reprise of the opening fanfare, at the end of Der Genesende. This was the piece that inspired the coinage of the term.

Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini has a quiet halftime cadence (echoing a big Dies Irae just a few seconds earier) in variation XX.

Schubert's Trout Quintet has a halftime cadence in the precise center of the final movement. Warning listeners about it doesn't help.

The first movement of Mahler's Second Symphony has a massive halftime cadence. (Super sideburns version.) The piece closed Gerard Schwarz's final concert (for nitpickers: Schwarz's final regular-season concert as music director of the Seattle Symphony), and when the halftime cadence was reached, I heard scattered applause through the hall. Which told me a few things.

  • The people who attended that concert were not regular concert-goers. Another cue was that people were far more nattily-dressed than your average Seattle Symphony crowd, and we were in the third tier! (Now, I don't normally sit in the third tier, so who knows, maybe the third-tier crowd is the dress-up crowd.)
  • The people who applauded under the mistaken impression that the piece was over were in for a big disappointment, since there was another hour to go!

Can you come up with other examples of halftime?

False ending sidebar: Haydn is famous for false endings and other tricks. Here's a fun story about selling the false ending in Haydn's 90th.

Comments (23)
  1. Adam Rosenfield says:

    Not to be confused with a deceptive cadence, which is a Ⅴ chord which doesn't resolve to Ⅰ.

  2. C. Allen-Poole says:

    Haydn's farewell symphony has a major head-fake in the first movement. It builds to the point of, "We are expecting the conclusion to start any second now" only to have an interlude (in Eb?) which comes out of no-where before the recapitulation. After a minute or so, it returns to where the Duke must have expected it to go.

    Interesting fact — if you remove that section, the piece fits into the golden ratio. It is a brilliant way to say, "We've been here too long"…

  3. John Costello says:

    The Paganini is an interesting case because the piece itself has a 3-part structure reminiscent of a piano concerto, but it is through-composed. So the "halftime cadence" you mention (at the end of variation 10) could be considered to come at the end of the "first movement".  What I think is funny is that the whole piece ends on a cadence that seems like a halftime cadence — there's a big orchestra buildup, but the actual ending is two quiet piano chords.

    You are probably aware of "New Horizons in Music Appreciation" but if you're not, you should be. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0vHpeUO5mw

  4. Mason Wheeler says:

    @C. Allen-Poole: What do you mean, "the piece fits into the golden ratio"?  The golden ratio is a geometric term for describing rectangles; what does that have to do with music, which is basically one-dimensional?

    [The golden ratio is a ratio. Presumably he means that the ratio of the lengths of first and second parts is golden. -Raymond]
  5. acq says:

    Thanks to you, John Costello, now I've discovered http://www.youtube.com/watch "Eine Kleine Nichtmusik-1,3,4" Wonderful.

  6. Jonathan says:

    I don't have any examples of halftime, but rather that Halo 2 is the exact opposite of this (halftime finale?)

  7. 640k says:

    Could you please fix the blog software, more often than not comments get lost. THIS IS A PROBLEM.

  8. David Brooks says:

    I suppose the moment that most immediately comes to mind, the huge repeated dominant chord in the last movement of Tchaikovsky's 5th, comes under your definition of false ending? It usually gets quite a few applauds.

  9. Patrick says:

    During Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse double feature, almost half the audience left after the first movie, clearly not realizing the meaning of the phrase "double feature".

  10. John C. Kirk says:

    It's not quite the same, but a few people have thought that "Into the Woods" (Stephen Sondheim) is over when it's only halfway through. The first half of it tells the stories that you're familiar with, then the second half does something different, so don't leave the theatre (or turn off the DVD) until you're sure that it's really the end!

  11. Robert Morris says:

    @Adam: reminds me of the joke–you might be a music major when … you trick your friends with deceptive cadences.

    I almost thought Raymond was going to write about this, but I see now that these are, in fact, (probably) full cadences.

  12. brad says:

    Seems like this terminology might get a little confusing considering the other major usage of half-time in music: en.wikipedia.org/…/Half_time_(music)

  13. Eric TF Bat says:

    For a non-classical version, I recommend Jonathan Richman's <i>Ice Cream Man</i>.

  14. Rick C says:

    640K, how many times are you going to ignore Raymond saying that he has nothing to do with the blog software.  Deliver the complaint to the Community Server people, not Raymond.

  15. Ivan K says:

    Maybe modern symphonies need to adopt a meme from opera to inform crowds of the real ending… "It aint over 'til the fat lady clangs the cymbals".

  16. 640k says:

    Of couse a (semi-) celebrity can influent which blogging software is used. If the high traffic bloggers on msdn.com whould abandon this stinking software for something that works, lets say google's blogger.com, the decision to fix the software would quickly escalate to MS' boardroom which will "demand" this site to be fixed.

    [It works well enough for me. Maybe you'd stop complaining if I turned off comments altogether. (I doubt the board of directors gets involved in deciding which hosting software should be running blogs.msdn.com. But I could be wrong.) -Raymond]
  17. Dave says:

    Yve's Klein's "Monotone Symphony" does this too, the monotone stops after 20 minutes and you don't realise that you still have 20 minutes of silence to go.

  18. hagenp says:

    Can you come up with other examples of halftime?

    Shut down notebook to make a run for the next underground,

    then Win7 reports it has 27 updates to install. [SCNR]

  19. Blecki says:

    In movies, the best example ever is Dark Knight. There's this huge, climatic car chase right in the middle of the movie. And the movie is so long that it really felt like this was it.

  20. Evan says:

    @Acq: "Thanks to you, John Costello, now I've discovered … "Eine Kleine Nichtmusik-1,3,4" Wonderful."

    Fantastic.

    @Blecki: "In movies, the best example ever is Dark Knight"

    I haven't seen Dark Knight, but I would have said Return of the King.

  21. Emmanuel says:

    @Evan Return of the King just has five endings. So it's not really *half*time. . .

  22. Blecki says:

    Maybe the difference is, having read LOTR, I wasn't fooled.

  23. RobSiklos says:

    Gotta love the super sideburns.

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