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Belated London Premiere for Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel on International Women’s Day

As part of its special day of programming for International Women’s Day, BBC Radio 3 broadcasted a live performance of the Easter Sonata, a major piano work which until recently had been attributed to Felix Mendelssohn, but is now proved to be the work of his sister Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel. Read more >>

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Author Topic: Pedalling in Beethoven  (Read 27454 times)
steve jones
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« on: August 15, 2006, 01:27:42 AM »


This is going to be one of those REALLY broad questions, so please hang in there!

Id like to ask how typically the pedal is used in Beethoven's piano sonatas. Iv heard it said that one should leave the pedal well alone unless instructed, yet I find places where it seems logical to use it. But ofcourse, Im used to working on Chopin, so I am maybe a little 'pedal happy' for Beethoven?

Is the pedal used liberally in this music, is it more as directed only?

Cheers,

SJ
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lung7793
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« Reply #1 on: August 15, 2006, 06:06:14 AM »

I would say it depends on the sonata.  I'm not a big beethoven player and am not too familiar w/ most of them, but i do know that the earlier sonatas are much more classical, like mozart and haydn (whom he studied with).  He pioneered into the romantic era as he became deaf, so the later sonatas are considered more romantic, even more chopinesque.  As a rule of thumb, I would say stick with what he wrote whenever possible.  Pedaling is always a subjective thing, as the instruments the older composers used were much different from today's piano.  Some will interpret the music to today's instrument and pedal the way they think is best, others will try to follow as close to the composer's wishes as possible.  I, myself, would tend to do what I think sounds good.  Does this help?
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pianistimo
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« Reply #2 on: August 15, 2006, 10:25:00 AM »

i used to use pedal to 'help' my dynamics.  now, i realize, it's all in the fingers.  pedal is not something cut in stone. you can eliminate or add to places where it is not written.  it's a matter of taste and distinctly hearing all the notes.  of course, there are places in beethoven where he really asks for the sostenuto pedal.  noone really talks about pedalling in the detail i want to hear it.  but, i've come a long ways from relying on it to help my playing.  now, i see it as a condiment.

also, it seems that if you have 'romantic' tendencies, you look for the extremes in his sonatas.  if you are a 'classic romantic'  then you don't.  you look to make things sound balanced and 'even-tempered.'  beethoven seems to be on both sides of the fence at once.  you have this passionate side that almost moves out of development to 'fantasy' in some sonatas - and yet sticks to form.  i see him as a sort of guneau pig for the development of the piano and piano sonatas and concertos.  he was experimenting with range, too.  you don't get many composers of that time going way into the bass and up way high into the treble.  it's as if, with some sonatas - he was helping himself tune a piano.  not far from bach - using more and more modified harmonic transitions and modulations.  holding out one note and hearing the chromatic notes around it - or clashing augmented fourths.

now, i hear augmented fourths and minor seconds in his sonatas much more.  i used to bring out ONLY harmonies.  now i also look for the 'dash' of textures and harmonies that are not 'standard.'  he was a boundary breaker.  in this sense, i am a romantic.  i like to hear the harmonies but stay within my 'boundaries' of tempi, more reigned in dynamics (mozart effect), and a feeling of pleasure after hearing a beethoven sonata (rather than great moodiness and displeasure).  i like the euphoria at the ending of some of his sonatas.  it's like he's saying - it'll all work out or be ok.
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quasimodo
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« Reply #3 on: August 15, 2006, 01:17:02 PM »

Who's Beethoven ?
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" On ne joue pas du piano avec deux mains : on joue avec dix doigts. Chaque doigt doit être une voix qui chante"

Samson François
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« Reply #4 on: August 15, 2006, 02:54:20 PM »

maynard solomon can answer that one.  but, beethoven's letters are quite revealing.  beethoven is the one who went deaf and left his last will and testament but was unable to follow through on jumping off the bridge.  this is when his nephew carl actually saved his life by being such a brat.  beethoven stayed alive to care for him.  and, his music took 'a new way.'
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zheer
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« Reply #5 on: August 15, 2006, 03:03:20 PM »

Who's Beethoven ?

  A famous football player.
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quasimodo
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« Reply #6 on: August 15, 2006, 03:04:11 PM »

I dunno but that ol' Ludwigs music never caught me. Except 3 or 4 symphonies, and some other orchestral words.
But his piano and chamber music, really not my cup of tea.
Somehow Beethoven is for me what Schumann is for Thal.
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" On ne joue pas du piano avec deux mains : on joue avec dix doigts. Chaque doigt doit être une voix qui chante"

Samson François
pianistimo
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« Reply #7 on: August 15, 2006, 07:04:27 PM »

he was the first composer to fully break away from the aristocracy and actually slam them to their face.  take for instance, the dedication given and then retrieved from napoleon bonaparte for the eroica symphony.  beethoven became his own idol.  basically, he stopped worrying about pleasing emperors or people and just decided to please himself.  some thought he was brutish.  but, in many ways he was just expressing the light/dark, yin/yang as some call it that plato had.  also, shakespeare was to language as beethoven to music, imo.  you have the 'common man' themes.   what other composer so fully went through all the emotions that you can have?
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pianistimo
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« Reply #8 on: August 15, 2006, 07:12:17 PM »

also, beethoven made no bones about plagarizing if it was changed slightly to suit his ideas better.  the sturm und drang symphony of haydn (#44) Trauer, III adagio - in measure 49 has a similar taste to measure 23 of beethoven's sonata op. 27 #2 (moonlight), I adagio sostenuto.  perhaps the sturm und drang in the moonlight is what attracts so many people to it.  there is a feeling of 'wandering' and a 'striking identity of tempo, rhythm, melodic line, and harmony.  they even share the 'exotic' key of F# minor.' 
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pianistimo
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« Reply #9 on: August 15, 2006, 07:25:18 PM »

also, 'when beethoven was a young man (22 years), george washington was president of the usa, louis XVI and marie antoinette were imprisoned by the leaders of the new french republic; viennese life, not yet under napoleonic rule, presented an atmosphere of frivolous gaity, at least on the surface.  haydn was at the height of his fame, and mozart had been dead since the previous december....'

he lived during a very tumultuous time in world history.  a sort of breaking forth scientifically, and musicians started benefitting from being an artist in their own right.  beethoven typifies the starving artist (excepting mozart did, too).  he did not care so much about what he ate or wore.  he broke away from his old patrons of the first period:  his bonn employer maximilian franz (the elector of cologne), his brother habsburgh emperor joseph II (1765-90), prince karl von lichnowsky, prince lobkowitz, prince kinsky, archduke rudolph (youngest bro of the emperor), count ferdinand von waldstein, baron van swieten.

he even sort of broke away in a manner of speaking (though probably not mentally) from haydn.  things never worked out for him to take many lessons from haydn - but in his second and third sonatas (first three dedicated to haydn), beethoven replaced the minuet with a scherzo.  and, he changed the sonata form from three movements to four.
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pianistimo
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« Reply #10 on: August 15, 2006, 07:32:03 PM »

the very first soloist for the emperor concerto was no less than his student carl czerny.  czerny had been a successful student of beethoven and 'subsequently enjoyed a successful teaching career in vienna, composing many studies and other works for piano.
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pianistimo
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« Reply #11 on: August 15, 2006, 07:36:06 PM »

also, how beethoven managed to make the piano sonata in C major (waldstien) sound dark and brooding through 'obstinate thundering of thick low chords...' is very cool.  beethoven was an innovator and on par with benjamin franklin for putting 'electricity' into things. 
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ako
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« Reply #12 on: August 15, 2006, 08:17:24 PM »

This is going to be one of those REALLY broad questions, so please hang in there!

Id like to ask how typically the pedal is used in Beethoven's piano sonatas. Iv heard it said that one should leave the pedal well alone unless instructed, yet I find places where it seems logical to use it. But ofcourse, Im used to working on Chopin, so I am maybe a little 'pedal happy' for Beethoven?

Is the pedal used liberally in this music, is it more as directed only?

Cheers,

SJ


I have played a few of his sonatas.  Beethoven is my favorite so I put a lot of work into it. In general, I would say leave both feet on the pedals and use both as needed to get the sound you need without muddling up the line. Beethoven should not be totally dry but should not be over-pedaled. Maybe an example is better suited for what I mean. In Op. 78 in F-sharp Major- 1st movement- I would pedal M1-4 according to chord changes. Some pedal M5-8 and no pedal at the leggiermente (use some finger-pedal in LH) and then pedal again in the triplets. I'd use both pedals at M19-22 intermittently. It really depends on the sound you're trying to achieve and the instrument you're playing on. Of course, you might use less pedal in an earlier Beethoven sonata...it really depends...hope the answer is not "even broader" than your question.
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steve jones
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« Reply #13 on: August 16, 2006, 06:07:57 PM »

I have played a few of his sonatas.  Beethoven is my favorite so I put a lot of work into it. In general, I would say leave both feet on the pedals and use both as needed to get the sound you need without muddling up the line. Beethoven should not be totally dry but should not be over-pedaled. Maybe an example is better suited for what I mean. In Op. 78 in F-sharp Major- 1st movement- I would pedal M1-4 according to chord changes. Some pedal M5-8 and no pedal at the leggiermente (use some finger-pedal in LH) and then pedal again in the triplets. I'd use both pedals at M19-22 intermittently. It really depends on the sound you're trying to achieve and the instrument you're playing on. Of course, you might use less pedal in an earlier Beethoven sonata...it really depends...hope the answer is not "even broader" than your question.

Actually thats a good example, the Op78 b1-4, as I was looking at that the other day from the latest AB lists. The start of Pathetique would be a similar example.

Im think that I would always pedal those chords if they appeared in a romantic piece, but as I tend to see Beethoven as a classic composer, Im apprehensive to.

An experienced pianist would have the judgement to know when pedalling is appropriate, but as a relative beginner, I often find myself unsure. Indeed, there are times when I disagree with the markings in romantic works and change them. But then I doubt myself - who am I to argue with those who would compose and edit these great works?

SJ
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ramseytheii
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« Reply #14 on: August 17, 2006, 03:23:44 AM »

I can't believe nobody mentioned the Moonlight Sonata!  Beethoven was of course the great experimenter in pedals, paving the way for such pedallers as Liszt and Scriabin.  In the Moonlight Sonata we are instructed to leave the pedal down for the entire first movement.  Don't listen to anyone when they tell you that works on Beethoven's piano, but not ours.  That doesn't mean don't do it, it means do it intelligently.  Because he was the great innovator and experimenter in pedals, so should we when he play his works, and not only th elate ones.  Think of the Sonata op.10 no.3, with its lugubrious slow movement, and the amazing pedal effects one can achieve there.  He was writing that way from the very beginning.  I say in Beethoven pedal, pedal, pedal; use your ears and your feet, and don't lose touch with essential articulation.  But Beethoven had a bit of everything, inmcluding Impressionism.

Walter Ramsey
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