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András Schiff Almost Won Grammy Without Pedal

The Grammy without pedal that Schiff didn't win

András Schiff is one of the world’s most prominent proponents of the keyboard works of J.S. Bach and has long proclaimed that Bach stands at the core of his music-making. His 2012 recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (for the ECM New Series label) was nominated for the category “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” at the Grammy Awards 2013. He did not win the Grammy this time but had there been a category for “Best Classical Piano Solo Without Pedal”, we are pretty confident that Schiff would have won it.

After fifty years in close relationship with Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, András Schiff has developed a kind of personal secret code with these works, like pet names shared between a loving older couple. Bach carefully laid out the preludes and fugues in books 1 & 2 of his WTC: 24 of each, in every possible key, major and minor. Schiff thinks of each piece as having not just a key but a particular character that he sees as color. In his recent Bach project program notes he writes:

The Grammy nominated album

The Grammy nominated album

“To me, Bach’s music is not black and white; it’s full of colours. In my imagination, each tonality corresponds to a colour. The Well-Tempered Clavier, with its 24 preludes and fugues in all the major and minor keys, provides an ideal opportunity for this fanciful fantasy.
Let’s imagine that in the beginning there was innocence, and therefore C major (all white keys) is snow-white. The last piece of both books is in B minor, which is the key to death. Compare the fugue of Book 1 to the Kyrie of the B-minor mass. This has to be pitch-black. Between these two poles, we have all the other colours: first the yellows, oranges and ochre (between C minor and D minor), all the shades of blue (E-flat major to E minor), the greens (F major to G minor), pinks and reds (A-flat major to A minor), browns (B-flat major), grey (B major) and finally black.”

Schiff’s New Approach to Bach Interpretation

As opposed to before, Schiff now entirely avoids using pedal when he plays Bach. He seeks to emulate the character of the keyboard instruments Bach himself would have known: the clavichord, harpsichord and various hybrids of his day had no means of sustaining the sound and the harpsichord could not make dynamic inflections within a phrase.

“The pedal is to the piano as the vibrato is to string players. Both must be applied with care, control and in moderation. Clarity is essential with Bach, the purity of counterpoint and voice-leading must be self-evident, never muffled or confused. Thus a discreet use of the pedal is not forbidden as long as these rules are observed. The question remains whether it is beneficial to the music to look for easier solutions. A perfect legato on the piano is an impossibility, and one can only create an illusion of achieving it. To attempt this with the hands alone is much more difficult but it’s well worth trying. Bach certainly didn’t want his music to sound easy; it’s demanding for players and listeners alike.” – András Schiff, Florence, 2012.

Listen:
Samples at Amazon.com

Read Schiff’s full article on pedalling:
Senza pedale ma con tanti colori
 (Without the pedal but with plenty of colours)

Schiff´s Bach project in New York Times:
Presentation
Review


/patrick
 
     

Books on Piano Pedaling

“The more I play, the more I am thoroughly convinced that the pedal is the soul of the piano. There are cases where the pedal is everything”
Anton Rubinstein

Two interesting books on the use of the piano pedals have been added to Piano Street’s new Special Content page.
The books are downloadable as e-books in pdf-format.


Guide to the Proper Use of
the Pianoforte Pedals

This legendary guide appeared in Russia in 1896 originally written by Bukhovtsev, a student of Anton Rubinsteins brother Nikolay at the Moscow Conservatory.


Possibilities of Tone Color by Artistic Use of Pedals

One of the leading pianists of the late 19th century explores in a warm and non-academic style the subtle tone colorings made possible through combinations of touch and pedal. Many inspiring points of views and advanced special techniques such as “pedal-crescendo” and “pedal-diminuendo” are covered in detail.


/nilsjohan
 
     



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