“In the eighteenth century listeners often burst into applause while the music was playing, much as patrons in jazz clubs do today. The practice seems to have died out in the course of the nineteenth century, although audiences almost always applauded after movements of large-scale works. Then, in the early years of the twentieth century, the idea took root that one should remain resolutely silent throughout a multi-movement piece. By imposing such a code, we may inadvertently be confining the enormous and diverse expressive energies that are contained within the classics of the repertory. The work itself should dictate our behaviour, not some hard-and-fast code of etiquette.”
He notes that many classical composers actually expected applause during the course of a concert, and he is supportive of patrons (especially "newbies" at symphonies) who applaud at "incorrect" times, directing his criticism instead at those who "shush" the newcomers.
People who applaud in the “wrong place”— usually the right place, in terms of the composer’s intentions— are presumably not in the habit of attending concerts regularly. They may well be attending for the first time. Having been hissed at, they may never attend again. And let’s remember that shushing is itself noise. I often hear “Shhhh!” from another part of the hall without having heard whatever minor disturbance elicited it. In an ironic twist, these self-appointed prefects of the parterre — or gods of the gods — have made themselves more of a nuisance than those whom they are righteously reprimanding. There is something dismaying about this narrow-eyed watchfulness on the part of connoisseurs and this fearfulness on the part of neophytes.
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