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Pedalling - unwritten rules?


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#1 EllieD

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Posted 10 September 2019 - 17:22

I'm having a go at the Grade 8 Rachmaninov Elegie Op. 3 No.1.

 

To me, it seems obvious from looking at the music (lots of big arpeggios in the LH) that you would pedal pretty much throughout, changing when the lower bass note changes. But there is nothing in the actual music to say this - in fact, the first note of each bar (which I think should usually be sounded throughout the bar) is only a quaver as written - here's a version which has the music: 

 

 

And a much better version played by Rachmaninov himself:

 

 

Obviously you can hear the use of the pedal in these, and I can see that it would be messy to write it so that the first LH note of each bar was written out as a minim, but are there any unwritten rules for this type of music such that everyone knows you just use the pedal? For some music, the composer might mark the piece as "sostenuto" or give written instructions for use of the pedal as is the case for Moonlight first movement, but there's nothing actually written here to say use the pedal, and if you were attempting to play it exactly as written, you'd end up changing the pedal every quaver!


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#2 SingingPython

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Posted 11 September 2019 - 20:05

In this sort of piano music, I think pedalling is a little like using vibrato on string instruments - such a standard part of realising the music that it is left up to the performer's taste and judgement unless something very specific is wanted - senza ped, or pedal held down over several bars where it might harmonically make sense to change it.  String players don't expect to see vibrato marked but do come across senza vib now and then.


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#3 EllieD

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Posted 12 September 2019 - 07:27

Good point, SingingPython, thank you! 


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#4 agricola

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Posted 12 September 2019 - 09:11

In a piece like this there are so many variables which affect how you might use the pedal that you have to be ready to respond quickly to what you hear.  For example, speed. volume, which octave you are playing in, genre of the music, balance between the hands and most importantly the instrument you are playing on can all affect the sound.  Also earlier composers were writing for less powerful instruments than we have now so you sometimes have to change their pedal marks -- I think there are a few of these in the Beethoven Sonatas for example.  


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#5 Gordon Shumway

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Posted 18 September 2019 - 12:32

That music under that first youtube video is confusing the issue. I'd have to print it out (no toner) and play it.

Listening to Rachmaninoff play, it seems clear enough. Use one or two pedals per bar, but be rigid about raising the pedal at the end of each bar (or phrase if that's over-generalised).

Usually too little is better than too much, but maybe if it's loud enough the audience won't care. Ogden played a lot of Rachmaninoff in the 60s. Listen to his recordings.

 

I can't generalise, but one of the criteria I might use is how muddy the dissonances get. 

Unfortunately my most recent experience is of CG and Brouwer. There's possibly a similar problem with string damping, which is a matter of personal preference. My feeling with Brouwer is that, since his music already contains many deliberate dissonances, (Latin and 60s pop inspired) major 7s and so on, adding to them by not damping is bad.

And that may be why, when I see the music under that first youtube video, I ask, did Rachmaninoff have two pedals or three?

"Quaver as written". That may change things. You have to decide whether a) the editor is using wisdom (but then why not write 'Ped.' instead of the minims, are they trying to teach the structure of the music?), or b) has a piano with 3 pedals and is too clever for their own good. All I can recommend is use your ears and judgement.


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#6 EllieD

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Posted 19 September 2019 - 07:47

Another consideration (that comes to mind when I see the music under that first youtube video) might be, do you have two pedals or three? Or perhaps more pertinently, did Rachmaninoff have two pedals or three?

 

Good question, and I did consider the sostenuto pedal at the outset, but didn't like the effect at all. Though obviously different pianos, different acoustics and different personal preferences could affect that choice.

 

According to Wikipedia, the sostenuto pedal was first added in 1844, so Rachmaninov would most certainly have had that as an option for his pieces.

 

Not that I personally would worry too much about what a composer had available particularly, as I don't think we need to be aiming to reproduce precisely what a composer would have heard, we need to be realising his/her music in the way that we most enjoy and prefer. IMO. Unless you're trying to make money from your playing …. happily not a consideration I need to worry about!!  :)


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#7 Gordon Shumway

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Posted 19 September 2019 - 08:23

 I did consider the sostenuto pedal at the outset, but didn't like the effect at all. 

 

Ditto. The rest would be played as though without any pedal and would be too lumpy.

 

I apologise, as I've never used three pedals and didn't know the name of the third one. The only composer I know of who used it routinely was Bartok.

 

I also apologise, as I've made a few edits to my post since you quoted me.


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#8 agricola

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Posted 20 September 2019 - 07:59

The relationship between a music score and the performance of it is like the relationship between a map and a landscape in that a map doesn't tell you everything there is to know about that piece of land.  So I would aim to become familiar with the piece before making too many decisions about the details of playing it.  Being able to listen to the composer play is the best information you can get -- Rachmaninov plays the Elegie with a lot of clarity and also with tempo rubato which is very nicely judged to sounds heartfelt rather than sentimental.  None of that is in the score because it isn't possible to load it with that amount of detail.  So I would get to know the piece over many weeks before fine-tuning all the nuances.


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#9 EllieD

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Posted 20 September 2019 - 09:32

Thank you Agricola - yes, I love Rachmaninov's own version of his piece, impossible to play it better than that I think! (Certainly by me!!  :) ) I find it helpful to have some ideas about how to shape the music even while I'm just learning the notes, but I do keep an open mind to that as I eventually improve fluency. If I can play this even half as beautifully as Rachmaninov does, I will be very happy!

 

PS - I just love the ending. Just listened to it again, it's over in such a flash, would be brilliant to be able to play that as Rachmaninov does!! :)


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