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I recently came across this clip:



(which if you've never seen is a treat!)

At 9'42" there's about a 30 second close up on the pedaling technique that's going on.
I guess I'm wondering how those with experience would describe this use of the pedal?

Being largely a self learner, I don't really have much of a take on the pedal and it's possibilities and this use is clearly something way more subtle than I've come across. Maybe it's something as simple as not having classical training and you'll all describe a known technique.

I suppose I'd had in my mind that Gould was using very little, if any pedal but this clip seems to blow that out of the water.

How would you teach this? What would it sound like without it for example? Is this an idiosyncratic technique or is this just good classical chops? Or both? smile

Any thoughts would be great?

Thanks,
Peter


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I have adopted this and made it my own: [clap clap]
Cut back the weakness, reinforce what is strong. [repeat]

[guitar solo]
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I dont see anything special here. He is changing the pedal frequently to keep the harmonies clear and avoid blurring the line. In Bach that is what all pianists do when they choose to use the pedal. The amount of pedal will depend on the artistic choice of the pianist.

You can actually hear when Gould is using the pedal. How much depends on the type of piece. In fast one he tends to use very little if any but in more slower ones, he is using it, sometimes full pedal and sometimes half. If you remove the pedal you will get a dryer, clearer sound but also less connected. You can also to some extent use finger pedaling instead and also use half pedal to moderate the effect.

Here is a vid, you can see him using the pedal and the associated effect. In comparison a video by Schiff who is not using any pedal in another piece and the same piece by Hewitt who is using a little pedal (though not that much).







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With Bach how long each note is held for is critical to the music — it's the heart of the counterpoint, and counterpoint is the heart of so much of Bach's music. When the pedal is down, all the notes are held equally long, essentially destroying any counterpoint you are trying to bring out.

So in general, most teachers will tell you to learn Bach without pedal. This is the best way to understand the music, and then once you've reached a comfort level with that, you can choose to add little bits of pedal here and there without damaging the counterpoint, and that is what Gould is doing.

There are three reasons (I can think of) to use the pedal for Bach:

1. to smooth out the transitions a tiny bit (in which case you pedal just enough for the note change)
2. to open up sympathetic vibrations on other strings for a richer sound for certain notes/chords
3. to get a sharp staccato sound while still sustaining the note

I generally avoid pedalling when I play Bach, but when I do it's for one of these three reasons, often unconsciously chosen. I initially only wrote the first two options, but replaying the Gould clip at 9:42, I realised he's going for something different. He pedals as soon as he plays the initial note, and then attacks the lower note and the rest of the triplet in quick succession, and since there's no real counterpoint here (except with the left hand, which is far away enough to be quite distinct), it creates a nice effect, similar to strumming a guitar or harp — it sounds staccato, but sustained, though he doesn't let it go one for very long, so it's a very subtle effect. I've never tried doing this as part of my interpretation, but it's definitely something I'll keep an eye out for.

As Sidokar mentions, you can finger pedal to achieve (1) (and, to some extent, (3)), but this can be strenuous, it can force awkward tradeoffs, and in some cases it's physically impossible. (2) is only possible with the use of the pedal.

Last edited by Jun-Dai; 10/05/21 10:01 AM.
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The piece I'm working on is an orchestral piece arranged for piano. There are Bach fugues that are organ originals arranged for piano. The organ plays notes that are sustained to the end of the beat like the instruments in an orchestra. When playing pieces that have long sustained phrases on piano, foot pedal is a must. Need to experiment when and how much to pedal to give the notes a sustained feel without sounding muddy.

Playing 18th century pieces intended for harpsichord on piano you can get away with pedaling altogether but some people prefer to play with pedal.

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So if you want to emulate how Bach keyboard music is played on the harpsichord, you should play without sustain pedal because there is no such mechanism on the harpsichord. In other words, the music was written such that you should be able to play solely with your fingers.

But that said, the fact that you're already playing on an instrument different from the original means you're playing a transcription, i.e. if you don't want to emulate a harpsichord, by all means use the pedal. After all, Bach keyboard music can be played on the harp, too - but with harp the opposite applies, there are no dampers (it's all sustain) !


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Did Schiff and Hewitt actually play in the same place? It looks like the same place.

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Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
Did Schiff and Hewitt actually play in the same place? It looks like the same place.

Coincidentally yes !


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I think there is a misconception about the usage of pedal in Bach. The old harpsichord had in fact a rather poor damping (the new ones have a better one), however combined with a clear sound. In addition most often it was played in large rooms (relative to the sound volume of the instrument) with a fair amount of natural reverb (same can be said of the clavichord and in a different context of the organ). Therefore the resulting sound was not at all dry but soft and quite fluid and connected yet because of the clarity of the sound due to lightness of the body, the different voices would still stand out clearly.

The piano on the other hand has a strong and dark sound but an excellent damping, thus not using at all the pedal will result in a fairly dry, unconnected sound, epecially when playing in relatively damped places with lots of people like the recording of Schiff. Using too much pedal will blur the voices, though not every piece of Bach is made of independant voices. Therefore the general idea of Schiff that one should not use the pedal on the piano because the old harpsichord did not have one is actually a misleading statement. Indeed the above recording of Schiff is, for my personal preference way too dry.

At the piano one can use the pedal as needed just like for other composers, it is essentially a question of artistic choice. The amount of pedal must be adjusted so that it suits the place and the balance must be so that the voices can be audible, how much connected and fluid is a personal artistic choice that can not be made in reference to historical situation as the piano is a completely different instrument.

For Gould, in many of his recording he is avoiding the pedal and thus does have a very dry sound (plus recorded in damped studio hall), but Gould had a monomaniac obsessive search for architectural clarity, which is a personal bias, but does not have to be the norm. Yet in some pieces he is using some pedal.

Below the same chromatic fantasy recorded by Rousset on an harpsichord in a naturally reverberant environment. And the older recording of Nikolaevna which is using a fair amount of pedal. Her recording is actually, all in all, closer in aesthetic to Rousset than is Schiff (of course IMO). And the recording of Gould hyper dry and damped.

Also by comparison the recording of Gould of contrapunctus IV, starting 4:55 and a modern one by Zhu Xiao Mei. It demonstrate that one can achieve with the pedal and some amount of reverb, the artistic choice is not to put forward the architecture but to create a musical piece. Gould was occasionally compared to a sewing machine, which this recording is a good illustration of.







Contrapunctus IV:





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Hi,

thanks for all the thoughtful replies. I'm still digesting this but this is fascinating to me and I'm learning a lot. And great to get all these wonderful clips.


So I say:

I have adopted this and made it my own: [clap clap]
Cut back the weakness, reinforce what is strong. [repeat]

[guitar solo]
[fade over incoherent yelps]
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FWIW --

It's not just Bach, or just Baroque music.

If you watch the right foot of any classical pianist, you'll see it constantly moving up and down, around the center of the pedal's travel.

It's being used to control the sustain time of the strings. As Sidokar says, too much pedal makes the sound muddy, too little pedal makes the sound not sufficiently legato. The two requirements -- "clean sound" and "connected sound" -- conflict, and it's the job of the artist to figure out how much sustain he/she wants, when.

Most of the time, the pedal is in some intermediate position, neither full "dampers down" nor full "dampers up".


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Some fingerings that work fine on organ or harpsichord will work poorly on piano-- on organ or harpsichord you do not have to worry about playing with even dynamics.

As a result, some baroque music requires some light pedaling at times to achieve the desired legato effect on piano with suitable fingerings.

The art of pedaling a piano is the art of listening, and using the feedback to adjust the pedaling.

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In my opinion, and the opinion of apparently everyone of the age, lack of a pedal/sustain in these old instruments was a flaw, not a desired benefit. Can anyone imagine Bach exclaiming, on learning that some piece was going to be played in a church "No! Only a dry sound is allowed, I won't allow it!" Of course not, it's silly. Or did he insist that the other instruments play detached and dry for a keyboard concerto? It makes no sense to me, or to apparently most people then, given the invention and promotion of the pianoforte. Player's and composers were fighting the percussion and lack of sustain, not happy with it. Bach bought one of Silberman's pianoforte, and also played one owned by King Frederick II, which precipitated the writing of A Musical Offering. Sustain, flowing lines, legato was a fundamental part of his music, and part of his instructions in the Two Part Inventions. And of course we know finger pedaling was used extensively. It's all written out note by note by French composers like Couperin, but the Germanic tradition was to leave that kind of fussy writing out, secure in the knowledge that every player would apply it as needed/wanted.

Which is not an argument for pedal pressed to the floor start to end, or making Bach sound like Debussy, just an argument to use the capabilities of the instrument to add the legato that Bach demanded in writing, was a tradition in nearly every other instrument of the time, and obviously expected to happen naturally in large halls and churches.

In contrast Schiff writes the opposite here: https://vanrecital.com/2012/07/andras-schiff-on-playing-bach-and-the-well-tempered-clavier/ I don't find it compelling. Bach 'should' sound difficult (he argues to try to get legato with hands only because Bach didn't want his music to sound easy). I do like Schiff's playing of Bach, but I also like others. Schiff has the benefit of a big hall, whereas most of us are playing in small rooms. Pedaling that would blur his performance can enhance ours.

edit: listen to him play here. Say around 32 minutes in. He has his hands off the keyboard and the piano is singing out. I can't tell if he has pedal down or the room is really rich (not great speakers at the moment), but it doesn't matter. There's tons of sustain going on here, and it is beautiful.

Last edited by RogerRL; 10/13/21 02:33 PM.

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It's the post-modern era, so anything goes. You do it one way, there would be supporters and detractors. You do it the other way, ditto there would be supporters and detractors. So IMO one is free to do it however - it may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's not a crime.

On the subject of legato, sustain, and reverberant acoustics - again the preference is not universal. In fact, there is a school of thought that Bach on the piano benefits from non-legato, or slightly more nuanced portato. The idea is that as opposed to a flowing legato, each note has a slight accent and disconnected from the next, thus giving it a heightened state of energy. A piano can never sound like a harpsichord, but the manner in which one plays it can certainly emulate one.

Listen to Nikolayeva playing the Invention no. 1, very sharp, dry, detached - contrast that with Dinnerstein who plays it legato. Both represent existing approaches in playing Bach on the piano.





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Originally Posted by RogerRL
In contrast Schiff writes the opposite here: https://vanrecital.com/2012/07/andras-schiff-on-playing-bach-and-the-well-tempered-clavier/ I don't find it compelling. Bach 'should' sound difficult (he argues to try to get legato with hands only because Bach didn't want his music to sound easy). I do like Schiff's playing of Bach, but I also like others. Schiff has the benefit of a big hall, whereas most of us are playing in small rooms. Pedaling that would blur his performance can enhance ours.

edit: listen to him play here. Say around 32 minutes in. He has his hands off the keyboard and the piano is singing out. I can't tell if he has pedal down or the room is really rich (not great speakers at the moment), but it doesn't matter. There's tons of sustain going on here, and it is beautiful.
One thing about Schiff: He doesn't practise what he preaches. Not just in matters of pedalling.

There's tons of pedal in that clip of the Sarabande. I didn't bother to listen to anything else.


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Originally Posted by RogerRL
In my opinion, and the opinion of apparently everyone of the age, lack of a pedal/sustain in these old instruments was a flaw, not a desired benefit. Can anyone imagine Bach exclaiming, on learning that some piece was going to be played in a church "No! Only a dry sound is allowed, I won't allow it!"
Bach generally would have played a piece in church on an organ. Tonal sustain is not in short supply on an organ.

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Originally Posted by Sweelinck
Bach generally would have played a piece in church on an organ. Tonal sustain is not in short supply on an organ.

Music written specifically for an organ has a part played with the foot pedals (an extra set of keys) that is not possible with a harpsichord / clavichord. Likewise the piano can only play notes that can be reached with 2 hands. Bach composed a number of fugues for the organ that can't be duplicated with a piano without altering the pieces in some way.

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Originally Posted by thepianoplayer416
Originally Posted by Sweelinck
Bach generally would have played a piece in church on an organ. Tonal sustain is not in short supply on an organ.
Music written specifically for an organ has a part played with the foot pedals (an extra set of keys) that is not possible with a harpsichord / clavichord. Likewise the piano can only play notes that can be reached with 2 hands. Bach composed a number of fugues for the organ that can't be duplicated with a piano without altering the pieces in some way.
And I believe all the pieces by Bach that are usually played on the piano today were composed for harpsichord or clavichord.

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Originally Posted by thepianoplayer416
Originally Posted by Sweelinck
Bach generally would have played a piece in church on an organ. Tonal sustain is not in short supply on an organ.

Music written specifically for an organ has a part played with the foot pedals (an extra set of keys) that is not possible with a harpsichord / clavichord. Likewise the piano can only play notes that can be reached with 2 hands. Bach composed a number of fugues for the organ that can't be duplicated with a piano without altering the pieces in some way.

So music Bach composed for harpsichord could be played on organ in church without limitation.

BTW, Bach owned a pedal harpsichord at home for organ practice. This was a regular harpsichord atop a platform that contained a second soundboard, strings for a 16' stop, and a pedalboard.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by thepianoplayer416
Originally Posted by Sweelinck
Bach generally would have played a piece in church on an organ. Tonal sustain is not in short supply on an organ.
Music written specifically for an organ has a part played with the foot pedals (an extra set of keys) that is not possible with a harpsichord / clavichord. Likewise the piano can only play notes that can be reached with 2 hands. Bach composed a number of fugues for the organ that can't be duplicated with a piano without altering the pieces in some way.
And I believe all the pieces by Bach that are usually played on the piano today were composed for harpsichord or clavichord.

Some Baroque composers composed specifically for harpsichord, but many, especially organists in the North German school or organ, often viewed many of their "harpsichord" compositions as being for harpsichord or organ.

WTC could not be played on most organs of the time because it was expensive to change the temperament of an organ, so most were still tuned with limitations for playing in all keys.

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Originally Posted by Sweelinck
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by thepianoplayer416
Originally Posted by Sweelinck
Bach generally would have played a piece in church on an organ. Tonal sustain is not in short supply on an organ.
Music written specifically for an organ has a part played with the foot pedals (an extra set of keys) that is not possible with a harpsichord / clavichord. Likewise the piano can only play notes that can be reached with 2 hands. Bach composed a number of fugues for the organ that can't be duplicated with a piano without altering the pieces in some way.
And I believe all the pieces by Bach that are usually played on the piano today were composed for harpsichord or clavichord.

Some Baroque composers composed specifically for harpsichord, but many, especially organists in the North German school or organ, often viewed many of their "harpsichord" compositions as being for harpsichord or organ.

WTC could not be played on most organs of the time because it was expensive to change the temperament of an organ, so most were still tuned with limitations for playing in all keys.
I recently read a 750 page bio of Bach. I don't recall it ever mentioning that Bach playing on the organ his compositions that are today mostly played on piano.

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