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Keyboard Technique – Sustaining Pedal in Romantic Period Music
The Romantic period can also be called the era of the steady pedal. Almost all of the Romantic composer’s work depends on the use of a sustained pedal at one point, sometimes entirely.
The main reason for this change from the music of the classical period was the gradual increase in the sound quality of the piano. The highly enriched harmonics of the new instruments, broken or not, made the closely spaced chords in the bass unbearable. So instead of opening the chords and playing the notes simultaneously, composers played them sequentially, using pedals to play things that couldn’t be extended with one hand.
It was really a development of an existing device: Broken chords have long been used to add rhythmic interest and sustain to keyboard music. What was new was the notion that the pedals not only allowed for less than one hand’s reach, but also noticeably matched the piano’s fast melodies. New and beautiful keyboard structures were created, and their enormous potential continued to develop into Debussy’s time and beyond.
Two main types of chords came to accompany the pedal. The first one spans the chord by one note. Second, chords are divided into minor chords, or combinations of minor chords and single notes. Pianists should look for such architectures and their combinations, because they are completely dependent on the right-hand pedal, but not always marked by the composer. The best way to determine pedaling in the absence of symbols is to reduce the open chord to its closed position. Then the pedal often coincides with the harmonic change. In addition, harmonic factors must be taken into account in order not to make the sound too thick and lose the real bass.
Another reason to change the harmonic pedal is the complexity of the right hand part. Less treble than bass will generally solve this. But sometimes it’s necessary to thin out the sound with a sort of half-pedal that keeps the more reverberant bass notes audible, and in extreme cases, leave the bass altogether and leave it up to the listener’s ears. muddy.
An example of this is Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, where the entire first movement is played senzi sordini (without damper); that is, hold the right hand pedal unchanged from start to finish. On modern pianos, the result is hopelessly muddy. But with the third pedal, we can approximate Beethoven’s intended effect by hitting the lowest notes in the section with the middle pedal pressed by the left foot throughout the movement. The right-hand pedal is used normally and changes according to the harmony. This allows the lowest undamped strings to act as sympathetic resonators, so that they vibrate continuously, creating a faint but perceptible mist of sound from beginning to end, through which the right hand sings, as Beethoven himself called it, “the voice of the tunnel.” (Read more about the history of the piano and the evolution of the piano.)
Different pedaling techniques may include:
- By pressing the pedal immediately after hitting a note and releasing it as you attack the note, the second note joins the first in perfect legato without the slightest trace of fuzz or softening. sound from one to another.
- An earlier method, now less used, is called the rhythm pedal. Depress the pedal at the same time as the attack and release just before the note is struck. The legato may be less perfect, but the notes have a kind of explosion due to the sympathetic vibration of the other unsuppressed strings. It can be very beautiful in slow food.
- The third type of pedal can only be used after silence. In this, the pedal is depressed before the note is struck, producing a very similar effect to a rhythmic pedal.
Composers sometimes use staccato symbols in combination with pedal symbols. At first this may seem contradictory. This is not to say that the pianist should make an inexorable attempt to shorten the notes, but rather to play them with touch and attack, as used in staccato music. This creates a slightly different tone than playing the same notes legato and pedal.
Pedal signs in romantic music should be interpreted more carefully than blindly followed. A pianist must determine the effect the composer intended and try to create that effect as closely as possible to the modern piano.
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