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Chopin and the pedals (Read 16961 times)

Offline fingerknot

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Chopin and the pedals
« on: October 28, 2004, 08:58:55 AM »
Was Chopin careful with his notation of pedal in his works? In my edition of his preludes there is not that much pedal indicated. Examples:

no 2: no pedal indicated at all. I use the sostenuto pedal to get LH legato.

no 4: Almost no pedal indication. Again, I like to use the sostenuto pedal to get LH legato

no 15: No pedal indication at all up to the switch to C# minor.

In other editions there can be quite a lot pedalling, so wonder if Chopin didn't notate that?
I know that sostenuto pedal wasn't invented at Chopins time, but I need all help I can get...

Another question is about how to interpret Largo (#4) and Lento (#2)?
What tempi do you use?

Offline cziffra777

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Re: Chopin and the pedals
«Reply #1 on: October 28, 2004, 10:01:26 AM »
Most composers didn't properly indicate pedaling in their scores. If they did indicate pedaling, often they would deviate from that in performance. I wouldn't go by the pedalling indications too much. I think pedalling was so much a part of the playing style of the Romantic era that pianists knew how to do it even though it wasn't indicated in the score. It's kind of like how Baroque era keyboard players just knew how to play ornaments. It was part of the style. There are plenty of accounts of live performances from that time (and  even earlier) that back this up. I'm sure Chopin didn't play the preludes you mention without pedal.

Offline cziffra777

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Re: Chopin and the pedals
«Reply #2 on: October 28, 2004, 10:09:21 AM »
I know that sostenuto pedal wasn't invented at Chopins time, but I need all help I can get...

I just noticed this comment. I think you are confused. While the sostenuto pedal wasn't invented until later, the damper pedal was and I assume that is what you are referring to. The sostenuto pedal is the middle pedal. This pedal allows you to sustain only the pitches that are being played when the pedal is depressed. It works independently of the damper pedal.

Offline fingerknot

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Re: Chopin and the pedals
«Reply #3 on: October 28, 2004, 10:35:16 AM »
I know that sostenuto pedal wasn't invented at Chopins time, but I need all help I can get...

I just noticed this comment. I think you are confused. While the sostenuto pedal wasn't invented until later, the damper pedal was and I assume that is what you are referring to. The sostenuto pedal is the middle pedal. This pedal allows you to sustain only the pitches that are being played when the pedal is depressed. It works independently of the damper pedal.


Actually I meant the sostenuto pedal. Since I'm uncertain of how carefully composers notated pedals and how much they regarded the change of timbre that comes by using the damper pedal, I use the sostenuto pedal to achieve legato without change of tone quality. Though, by the anwers I've received here, it seems that I can use the pedals quite freely.

Offline Hmoll

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Re: Chopin and the pedals
«Reply #4 on: October 28, 2004, 05:00:36 PM »
I know that sostenuto pedal wasn't invented at Chopins time, but I need all help I can get...

I just noticed this comment. I think you are confused. While the sostenuto pedal wasn't invented until later, the damper pedal was and I assume that is what you are referring to. The sostenuto pedal is the middle pedal. This pedal allows you to sustain only the pitches that are being played when the pedal is depressed. It works independently of the damper pedal.


Actually I meant the sostenuto pedal. 

I don't know anywhere Chopin indicated use of the sostenuto pedal.
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Offline cziffra777

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Re: Chopin and the pedals
«Reply #5 on: October 28, 2004, 08:37:26 PM »
I don't know anywhere Chopin indicated use of the sostenuto pedal.

He wouldn't have. It was invented several decades after his death and I don't think it became common until much later.

Offline faulty_damper

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Re: Chopin and the pedals
«Reply #6 on: October 28, 2004, 08:57:43 PM »
It couldn't have been invented several decades after his death as Alkan specifically marked the use of the Sostenuto in many of his compositions.  And for temporal comparisons, Chopin and Alkan were very good friends.

Offline xvimbi

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Re: Chopin and the pedals
«Reply #7 on: October 28, 2004, 09:57:21 PM »
It couldn't have been invented several decades after his death as Alkan specifically marked the use of the Sostenuto in many of his compositions.  And for temporal comparisons, Chopin and Alkan were very good friends.
The sostenuto pedal was invented in 1844 by Jean Louis Boisselot and improved by Steinway in 1874.

Offline cziffra777

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Re: Chopin and the pedals
«Reply #8 on: October 28, 2004, 10:42:06 PM »
It couldn't have been invented several decades after his death as Alkan specifically marked the use of the Sostenuto in many of his compositions.  And for temporal comparisons, Chopin and Alkan were very good friends.

Chopin died in 1849. Alkan died in 1888. Given those dates, I don't see how you arrive at your conclusions.

Offline faulty_damper

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Re: Chopin and the pedals
«Reply #9 on: October 29, 2004, 09:47:26 PM »
The sostenuto pedal was invented in 1844.  Chopin died in 1849.  So it couldn't have been invented several decades after his death.

Offline cziffra777

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Re: Chopin and the pedals
«Reply #10 on: October 30, 2004, 12:39:50 AM »
The sostenuto pedal was invented in 1844.  Chopin died in 1849.  So it couldn't have been invented several decades after his death.

The article I read had it wrong. The date given was the date the technology was patented by Steinway. However, the sostenuto pedal still did not become common until long after Chopin's death. It's possible he didn't even know about it.

Your answer still doesn't explain your comment about Alkan, btw.  While I was wrong about the date, you were trying to use the fact that Alkan indicated the sostenuto pedal as proof that it was invented during Chopin's lifetime. I still don't get that logic.

Offline jlh

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Re: Chopin and the pedals
«Reply #11 on: October 30, 2004, 04:26:19 AM »
A lot of the pedal marks, and a lot of other marks too, were put in the score by editors, not necessarily by Chopin.  The absence of a pedal mark doesn't mean "don't play the damper pedal", but just to use your best judgement.  Using the damper pedal will make you have a bigger tone as well, since you're making use of the overtones.  Just be careful not to let things get muddy.

Don't use the pedal as a substitute for proper legato technique, however, or you will turn it into a crutch instead of a tool. 

I have never seen a mark in Chopin's music requiring the use of the sostenuto pedal.  I can't think of a piece that could benefit from its use, either.  Save that pedal for later composers like Debussy and Ravel.

I do use the UC pedal, though, in select sections of his music.  Example: the opening theme of Ballade #2 -- not the whole first section, but parts of it.  Using that pedal changes the tone of the piano, not just the volume, so you have to be careful not to overuse that one as well.
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Offline fingerknot

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Re: Chopin and the pedals
«Reply #12 on: October 30, 2004, 09:56:32 AM »
A lot of the pedal marks, and a lot of other marks too, were put in the score by editors, not necessarily by Chopin. 

Could this explain why there some times is staccato markings and pedal indication at the same time?

The absence of a pedal mark doesn't mean "don't play the damper pedal", but just to use your best judgement.  Using the damper pedal will make you have a bigger tone as well, since you're making use of the overtones.  Just be careful not to let things get muddy.

Don't use the pedal as a substitute for proper legato technique, however, or you will turn it into a crutch instead of a tool. 

Well, in prelude #2 I find it quite tricky to play LH legato in some bars, so I use pedal (sostenuto, but could use damper) to prolong the quavers. To avoid mudiness, I pedal only during quavers. I could of course move my hand as fast as possible when skipping, but since at some places I can play truly legato I feel that there will be a noticeable difference. Since this piece is simple and short, I believe one has to cherish the details to achieve some musical height. How would you pedal in this piece?

 Maybe the legato slurs are added by the editor too!

In prelude #4 the problem with playing legato comes with the fact that chords should be played repeatedly.

I have always thought that the legato effect was one of the core uses for the damper pedal! :o

Offline faulty_damper

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Re: Chopin and the pedals
«Reply #13 on: October 30, 2004, 11:32:27 PM »
The article I read had it wrong. The date given was the date the technology was patented by Steinway. However, the sostenuto pedal still did not become common until long after Chopin's death. It's possible he didn't even know about it.

Your answer still doesn't explain your comment about Alkan, btw.  While I was wrong about the date, you were trying to use the fact that Alkan indicated the sostenuto pedal as proof that it was invented during Chopin's lifetime. I still don't get that logic.

I wasn't using it as proof, just using Alkan's use of it in some of his compositions to show the time frame since both were alive at the time.  I didn't know Chopin died so early but if the date given was correct, then if was invented prior to his death regardless of whether it was in wide use.

Offline faulty_damper

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Re: Chopin and the pedals
«Reply #14 on: October 30, 2004, 11:38:02 PM »
A lot of the pedal marks, and a lot of other marks too, were put in the score by editors, not necessarily by Chopin. 

Could this explain why there some times is staccato markings and pedal indication at the same time?

The absence of a pedal mark doesn't mean "don't play the damper pedal", but just to use your best judgement.  Using the damper pedal will make you have a bigger tone as well, since you're making use of the overtones.  Just be careful not to let things get muddy.

Don't use the pedal as a substitute for proper legato technique, however, or you will turn it into a crutch instead of a tool. 

Well, in prelude #2 I find it quite tricky to play LH legato in some bars, so I use pedal (sostenuto, but could use damper) to prolong the quavers. To avoid mudiness, I pedal only during quavers. I could of course move my hand as fast as possible when skipping, but since at some places I can play truly legato I feel that there will be a noticeable difference. Since this piece is simple and short, I believe one has to cherish the details to achieve some musical height. How would you pedal in this piece?

 Maybe the legato slurs are added by the editor too!

In prelude #4 the problem with playing legato comes with the fact that chords should be played repeatedly.

I have always thought that the legato effect was one of the core uses for the damper pedal! :o


Why would you use the sostenuto in Chopin?

Better question: what type of sostenuto pedal do you have?  The genuine action kind usually found on high end pianos, the one that functions just like a damper on the bass notes, or a semi-quasi sostenuto that will hold all the dampers that are depressed?

From the way you describe the reason for using it, it doesn't seem like the piano has the genuine action.  It's sounds more like you have a damper action sostenuto or semi-quasi action.

Offline jlh

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Re: Chopin and the pedals
«Reply #15 on: October 30, 2004, 11:59:17 PM »
Could this explain why there some times is staccato markings and pedal indication at the same time?

Maybe, depending on your edition, but you might do some research on that.  Where are you talking about?

Well, in prelude #2 I find it quite tricky to play LH legato in some bars, so I use pedal (sostenuto, but could use damper) to prolong the quavers. To avoid mudiness, I pedal only during quavers. I could of course move my hand as fast as possible when skipping, but since at some places I can play truly legato I feel that there will be a noticeable difference. Since this piece is simple and short, I believe one has to cherish the details to achieve some musical height. How would you pedal in this piece?

You don't need to try and rush with your hand.  There are actually 3 voices in the left hand, and only the middle one need be legato.  Take the first measure and look for these notes - B-A#-B-G-B-A#-B-G.  Those are the notes that should be played with legato technique.  The top G and bottom E are mostly filler, so let your hand become a fulcrum on the middle voice and pivot as necessary to play the other notes.  That middle voice is something that occurs throughout the piece, so always bring that out.

I would use the damper, not the sostenuto pedal, and probably depress it half way on every quaver.  Obviously, this is not a constant thing, as I'd probably pedal longer in some spots, like the first beat of measure 6, for example.

In prelude #4 the problem with playing legato comes with the fact that chords should be played repeatedly.

I have always thought that the legato effect was one of the core uses for the damper pedal! :o


Actually, because of the double escapement mechanism of the piano, it is possible to repeat any note without fully releasing it (and in the process also release the dampers).  Do a search on "double escapement" on google for more info.  Using a lot of pedal on #4 is dangerous.  You must be subtle with its use.  Try using a half pedal (just barely depress it enough to bring the dampers a LITTLE bit off the strings) and pedal every time the LH changes harmony.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard students ruin this piece just by overusing the pedal.

While it's true that you can to some degree make it sound like you're playing legato by using the pedal, you shouldn't depend on it to make things legato.  Sometimes, in certain passages of music there is no possible way of making things legato, so we must use the pedal to compensate.  The most useful aspect of the damper pedal is the fact that in pedaling, all the other strings vibrate, giving you an enriched sound.  It's especially useful in composers of the 19th century and later, because you want to achieve a singing tone when playing their pieces, and using the overtones in the piano will make the tone sing a lot more.

I was just pointing out that legato is a technique of the hand, not the pedal.  Using the pedal to produce legato might get you out of a rare bind, but your technique will suffer if you make a habit of it.  Frequently, I'll play legato passages completely sans pedal as a self-check just to make sure I'm actually playing legato.

Hope this helps!
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Offline rohansahai

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Re: Chopin and the pedals
«Reply #16 on: October 31, 2004, 01:43:42 AM »
Joseph Lhevinne said, "The finest pedalling is that in which the audience does not realise there is a pedal at all!!!!"
Waste of time -- do not read signatures.

Offline fingerknot

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Re: Chopin and the pedals
«Reply #17 on: November 02, 2004, 05:28:11 PM »
Could this explain why there some times is staccato markings and pedal indication at the same time?

Maybe, depending on your edition, but you might do some research on that.  Where are you talking about?

Well, if I look at the Valse #1 (op. 18) there are lots of examples. For instance, bar 22. There is also stated leggerimente.

Well, in prelude #2 I find it quite tricky to play LH legato in some bars, so I use pedal (sostenuto, but could use damper) to prolong the quavers. To avoid mudiness, I pedal only during quavers. I could of course move my hand as fast as possible when skipping, but since at some places I can play truly legato I feel that there will be a noticeable difference. Since this piece is simple and short, I believe one has to cherish the details to achieve some musical height. How would you pedal in this piece?

You don't need to try and rush with your hand.  There are actually 3 voices in the left hand, and only the middle one need be legato.  Take the first measure and look for these notes - B-A#-B-G-B-A#-B-G.  Those are the notes that should be played with legato technique.  The top G and bottom E are mostly filler, so let your hand become a fulcrum on the middle voice and pivot as necessary to play the other notes.  That middle voice is something that occurs throughout the piece, so always bring that out.

I would use the damper, not the sostenuto pedal, and probably depress it half way on every quaver.  Obviously, this is not a constant thing, as I'd probably pedal longer in some spots, like the first beat of measure 6, for example.

In prelude #4 the problem with playing legato comes with the fact that chords should be played repeatedly.

I have always thought that the legato effect was one of the core uses for the damper pedal! :o


Actually, because of the double escapement mechanism of the piano, it is possible to repeat any note without fully releasing it (and in the process also release the dampers).  Do a search on "double escapement" on google for more info.  Using a lot of pedal on #4 is dangerous.  You must be subtle with its use.  Try using a half pedal (just barely depress it enough to bring the dampers a LITTLE bit off the strings) and pedal every time the LH changes harmony.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard students ruin this piece just by overusing the pedal.

While it's true that you can to some degree make it sound like you're playing legato by using the pedal, you shouldn't depend on it to make things legato.  Sometimes, in certain passages of music there is no possible way of making things legato, so we must use the pedal to compensate.  The most useful aspect of the damper pedal is the fact that in pedaling, all the other strings vibrate, giving you an enriched sound.  It's especially useful in composers of the 19th century and later, because you want to achieve a singing tone when playing their pieces, and using the overtones in the piano will make the tone sing a lot more.

I was just pointing out that legato is a technique of the hand, not the pedal.  Using the pedal to produce legato might get you out of a rare bind, but your technique will suffer if you make a habit of it.  Frequently, I'll play legato passages completely sans pedal as a self-check just to make sure I'm actually playing legato.

Hope this helps!

I think I'll try what you suggested and see if I can make it work. Thanks.