General pauses:
The meeting of sound and silence

As a musician with a great love for Classical music, I listened up attentively when I heard Osho speak about the spaces between the notes, the “gaps of silence“. The following quote in particular made me look at so called „general pauses“ in Classical Music in a way I never thought of before: from a Mystics rather a Musician’s view, and experiment with it.


„Music does not consist, in the first place, of words, language. It consists of pure sounds, and it consists of pure sounds only to those who don’t know anything beyond sound. Those who know silence – for them, the whole gestalt changes.

You see my five fingers, but somebody can see the five gaps between my fingers. Ordinarily you will not see the gaps, you will see five fingers. But the gaps are more real: fingers may come and go, gaps will remain.

Between sounds of music there are gaps of silence. The authentic music consists not of sounds, but of the gaps. Sounds come and go; those gaps remain. And music can make you aware of those gaps more beautifully than anything else; hence I have to say that music comes next to silence. But it is possible that even the musician may not be aware of it, unless his music is his meditation too. Then, soon, the shift from sounds to silence.“

Osho, The Great Pilgrimage: From Here to Here, Chapter 18

Classical composers often add sudden stops in their music. These gaps are called ‚general pauses‘.

Mozart sometimes uses these pauses like pitfalls. Suddenly we fall into them and before we know it, we find ourselves in another world. After these moments of silence literally everything is possible in his music.

For example in Mozart’s Opera „Le Nozze di Figaro“ (Figaro’s Marriage), the real climax of the whole 3 hour masterpiece is a long general pause, a moment of emptiness, shortly before the end. As a complicated story of intrigues, jealousy and misuse of power comes to an abrupt halt, the Count’s mind all at once is completely shattered. For the first time feels his heart and he can sincerely apologise to the Countess. Start listening at around 2.40.40 to sense the impact of this moment at 2.44.02 in the following video
(The sequence at 2.40.40 begins after Figaro has played a prank on his fiancée Susanna to confirm his honesty. Then, together with the Countess, they execute the trap for the Count.)

Haydn loves general pauses and has lots of fun with this trick. He surprises us and makes us laugh. In the final movement of his Symphony Nr. 90, this rascal simulates an ending – but it’s not! The audience falls for it and then, after a moment of confusion in the silence, recognises the trick and is dismissed in delight! If you’re short in time start around 21.40 and enjoy the music:

Handel very often composes a long general pause, an empty moment, as a climax before he sets the musical end point. What a difference it makes to change the gestalt of perception to this silence instead to the euphoric music! The most famous example for this is the general pause before the end is the „Hallelujah“ from Handel’s „Messiah“.

These general pauses can be found in countless works composed from the 16th century onwards. A mind-blowing piece from the year 2013 is „4 PM“ written and played by the incredible treble recorder player and composer Conrad Steinmann. This piece is a real celebration of sound and silence.

In my work as a choir director, I love to focus on both: silence and music. I began to realise that this not only provides access to meditation, but also increases the perception of music, in its beauty and depth. So, I let the singing group consciously experience the silence before the music starts and after it ends. Or in pieces where the music is ‚interrupted‘ by general pauses, I extend them in length in the rehearsals. Like this, the singers not only become attentive to the silence, but also gain awareness of how they breathe, how they start and end the sounds, of their body posture and of the synchronicity of the whole group. Basically, there is a big shift from singing mechanically to singing with awareness. And so the joy of singing, alone or in a group, simply overflows.

In one occasion, I had a choir perform a few short 16th century a capella pieces about jealousy.

First piece: Orlando di Lasso „Quand mo mari“. A woman is in rage and fear and complains about her old, crude husband. 2nd piece: Pierre Certon: „La la la“ The choir singers walk into the audience singing, gossiping about the cheated husband. Then the unexpected „stop“! And after this sudden silence, a very quiet song (Pierre Certon: „Quand j’entends“) that tells about the suffering of the lovers. – The silence in the hall was tangible.

I am looking forward to facilitate a workshop during the Spring Concerts in Langenbruck, Switzerland, where international top-class musicians will perform. As the theme of these events, I proposed the title: „Zwischen den Tönen – Musik und Stille“ (Between Sounds – Music and Silence). It is certainly high time to bring this incredibly important view of music to both the musicians and the audience.

The one-week workshop in Finland  will not focus on classical music; it is rather a joyful and playful exploration for everyone, using the voice, singing and listening to music, sound and silence.

Chandra Rolf Mäder