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Musical notation and the pedal (Read 12524 times)

Offline Scarbo

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Musical notation and the pedal
« on: January 21, 2002, 05:34:00 AM »
There has been something I have wondered about for a long time and nobody has been able to give me a satisfactory answer... I was wondering if anyone out there has any ideas.

Why do composers sometimes write rests during measures that should be pedalled?  In a measure that should be pedalled completely, is there a difference in sound between holding a note all the way through, and releasing it halfway through the measure?

Here is an example.  Look at the second-to-last measure of the 4th movement of Chopin's B-minor sonata (measure 285).  Chopin indicates that the pedal should be applied for three solid measures,  but he is very specific about the note durations of the chord in M. 285.   He took pains to write it out as a dotted quarter note tied to an eighth note, followed by 2 eighth rests.  Why would he be so specific about note/rest durations in a measure that has the pedal applied throughout?  Do those rests mean anything?  Was there a difference in the pedalling mechanism between Chopin's Pleyel and the modern grand that would account for this?

Offline stokes

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Re: Musical notation and the pedal
«Reply #1 on: February 20, 2002, 01:55:44 AM »
I do not know exatly what specific place you are talking about in the sonata, because I don't have the music here, but I think I know what you mean. Chopin specially did that a lot. It's hard to tell what he really wanted with it, but I think he somehow could hear (or imagine) those rests were there in the pedal. Probably more just a feeling than an articulated rest.
If you have a pedal marked 4/4 measure with four quarter notes in it, compared to four eight notes with rests between each, you wouldn't play it the same. Pedaling can really be comfusing in the 19th century music. Schumann for example only marked "pedal" in the beginning of his music if he wanted it pedaled and you can see the same kind of careful rest articulations in his music as in Chopin's. Brahms sometimes didn't put many pedal markings at all. You can find those two pages pedals in some of his music. I think it was very obvious for the composers and musicians at that time how to use the pedal, they didn't have to mark it out everywhere in the music. We should think about the same. The sound that comes out of the piano is what matters and we get a lot of help using the pedal.

Offline Ckarrlozs

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Re: Musical notation and the pedal
«Reply #2 on: February 25, 2002, 01:37:52 PM »
Scarbo, I know what you mean and it is indeed very confusing sometimes. Althought I personnaly tend to respect rests more than pedal markings, I do hold the pedal too when it says so even if there is a rest, in those cases where I consider the rest more like a phrasing. You could hold the pedal and still give the impression that there is a rest, that a new phrase is beginning. Pianos in the early 19th century didn't have such a big and long sound compared to our Steinways D (that we all have in our homes...  ;) ). Think of the pedal (in those cases) as the reverb, the echo or whatever...

That's my personal opinion anyways.

Offline rmc7777

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Re: Musical notation and the pedal
«Reply #3 on: March 03, 2002, 03:52:32 AM »
For questions and issues regarding the use of pedals, I highly recommend the book "The Pianist's Guide to Pedaling" by Joseph Banowetz.  There is a wealth of information and examples in this book on how to use the pedals - una corda, sostenuto, and damper.  

I cannot comment directly on the Chopin sonata because I don't have the score, but it's possible that the pedal marks are the editor's and not Chopin's.  In any case, I don't know how one can (damper) pedal through a rest.  I would have to review the score and see what makes musical sense.

Offline rachfan

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Re: Musical notation and the pedal
«Reply #4 on: January 09, 2003, 04:50:40 AM »
A couple of comments:  First, there is no damper pedal marking that has ever been devised that is satisfactory nevermind foolproof, including those adopted by composers themselves as opposed to mere editors.  The performer's nervous system is slight different from everyone else's; a Steinway pedal will react differently from a Baldwin's; and the mechanisms on two Mason & Hamlins or any other two like models might be adjusted differently.  The accoustics in the room or hall also play a major role.  And lest I forget, the musical style will dictate some general principles of pedaling as well.  So there are a lot of variables flying around in the equation, not to mention the performer's interpretation.  On the bottom line, there is only one final arbiter of pedaling, and it is not the indications on the sheet music; rather it is the musician's keen and discerning ear.  Listening to one's own pedaling is at the top of the pianist's art, as pedaling is indeed sheer art, not science.

Normally, if rests are written without pedal, that direction should be respected in my opinion.  Mozart himself firmly believed that a rest is often far more important than a note in its effect on the listener.  It's not a hard and fast rule though, especially in impressionistic music.  In the opening of Debussy's Suite Bergamasque, many pianists hold the low F at the beginning as a bass pedal point throughout the ensuing rest to preserve sonority as foundation for the continuing figuration.  

Another way out of the "fix" is to obey and not obey the composer at the same time.  In Debussy's "Les sons et les parfumes tournent dans l'air du soir" in the last measures, some of us use a technique called "retaking the notes silently".  At the point of the indicated rest and in a split second just before releasing the pedal, you silently retake the chords with your hands.  Then when the damper pedal is lifted, the chords' strings will continue to sympathetically vibrate as if the pedal were never really released.  In other words, the hands take over from the foot.   Gieseking used this trick often in playing French music.

In the Paderewski Edition of the Chopin Sonata in b (which I have never studied) the pedal-down indicator is shown at the start of measure 284, and the pedal-off indicator is at the end of the fermata on the final chord.  Note that Chopin has not made any intervening pedal markings anywhere to lift the pedal.  Note too that those last three measures have chords sharing the same B tonality--there are no passing notes or changes in harmony to merit pedal changes there, plus the tempo is still presto.  Also the dynamic is ff in the excitement of this codetta.  Putting all of this together, my interpretation is that Chopin, while indicating rests rather than longer note values (since longer note durations would be contrary to the feeling of presto) in those three measures, he had no notion of lifting the pedal at all, and, indeed, the pedal should be sustained throughout.  I just listened to Rubinstein play this, and that's exactly what he does--holds it down.  

What this comes down to is that there are exceptions to the rules.  You have to analyze each situation in all its details, arrive at a judgment that can be justified, check it against the performance practice, and if there are no overriding countervailing arguments, implement your interpretation.
Interpreting music means exploring the promise of the potential of possibilities.