Sostenuto pedal usage in piano literature

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daphnis
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Sostenuto pedal usage in piano literature

Postby daphnis » Thu Jan 28, 2010 3:39 am

I'm curious to know of a list of piano works that either 1.) explicitly call for use of the sostenuto (a.k.a. "middle piano pedal") pedal (and if so, how is this indicated) or 2.) situations or passage where this pedal is implied, highly useful, or without the use of which would be impossible. By this last condition I specifically ask for works where, even if it is not indicated, an accurate performance based on the notation would be impossible without the use of the sostenuto pedal.

--Daphnis

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Re: Sostenuto pedal usage in piano literature

Postby vinteuil » Thu Jan 28, 2010 3:48 am

There's a few Debussy, but I can't remember exactly which ones.
I find that the opening of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 15 is "facilitated" by the sostenuto pedal for the low D, but that's editorial. Similarly several Liszt pieces have low notes held with the damper pedal, and sometimes it's good to hold those with the sostenuto and change pedal.
The opening of Saint-Saëns' Op. 22 (which I'm playing) is obviously for the sostenuto pedal to hold. Similar examples are sprinkled through (mainly french) literature.
In avant-garde music, it's just another effect. It's quite useful when one wants harmonics, etc. Just about everyone since about 1920 (and Schoenberg) uses it (e.g. Carter Double)
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Re: Sostenuto pedal usage in piano literature

Postby dwil9798 » Thu Jan 28, 2010 4:24 am

In Prokofiev's "Ten Pieces from Romeo and Juliet" for piano, No. 6 "Friar Lawrence", at Bar 9 there begins a series of held low B-Flats. I've found that the sostenuto pedal is the only really effective way to to perform this passage, unless Prokofiev had intended some very blurry dissonances (which he very well might have).

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Re: Sostenuto pedal usage in piano literature

Postby steltz » Thu Jan 28, 2010 5:53 am

I believe one of the Debussy's is Gardens in the Rain.
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Re: Sostenuto pedal usage in piano literature

Postby sbeckmesser » Thu Jan 28, 2010 10:25 am

Enter The Pianist's Guide to Pedaling by Joseph Banowetz into a Google Book search and once you call up the book search the text for "middle pedal." Although the book is "partial view," you'll find some interesting examples. Another search in this book for "sostenuto pedal" may return some different but still relevant results.

--Sixtus

PS: There's also a famous moment in middle the Paganini movement of Schumann's Carnaval (right before "Tempo I, ma piu vivo") where Schumann manages to create a crescendo on a sustained ppp chord by the use of the pedals (just which pedals and how these bars are to be played is a matter of debate).

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Re: Sostenuto pedal usage in piano literature

Postby vinteuil » Thu Jan 28, 2010 5:19 pm

sbeckmesser wrote:PS: There's also a famous moment in middle the Paganini movement of Schumann's Carnaval (right before "Tempo I, ma piu vivo") where Schumann manages to create a crescendo on a sustained ppp chord by the use of the pedals (just which pedals and how these bars are to be played is a matter of debate).

Those are just piano harmonics. The general agreement is that the pedal is held through the ff f minor chords, then one uses the hands to hold down the e-flat dominant 7 without playing them...then release the pedal leaving only the overtones of the E-Flat chord...Rosen notes the irony of using the most pianistic effect in a portrait of a violinist XD
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Re: Sostenuto pedal usage in piano literature

Postby Lyle Neff » Thu Jan 28, 2010 9:19 pm

As I have been playing through a lot of Cesar Cui's piano music at home lately, it seems that the sostenuto pedal would be the only way to handle certain passages.

Even so, there are some situations in Cui's piano music where the harmony is sustained in the lower parts with staccato in the upper parts (or vice versa, for that matter!) and is impossible to pull off as written.
"A libretto, a libretto, my kingdom for a libretto!" -- Cesar Cui (letter to Stasov, Feb. 20, 1877)

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Re: Sostenuto pedal usage in piano literature

Postby sbeckmesser » Fri Jan 29, 2010 7:09 am

perlnerd666 wrote:The general agreement is that the pedal is held through the ff f minor chords, then one uses the hands to hold down the e-flat dominant 7 without playing them...then release the pedal leaving only the overtones of the E-Flat chord


In contrast to the "general agreement," the Banowetz book I cited argues for a literal interpretation of the passage. That is, actually play the E-flat chord ppp, disengage the damper pedal at the bar line (thus eliminating both the f-minor chord and the resonances of the E-flat chord) and immediately engage it again (which would let both the fundamentals of the E-flat chord and whatever sympathetic continuing vibrations that spread around the instrument ring on -- not all of them would be harmonics, strictly speaking). The book argues that when performed in this way you actually get some sort of crescendo-decrescendo effect, as marked in the score. I think the notation says that Schumann apparently wants the E-flat chord to softly "fade in," as we say nowadays, which is not precisely the same thing as soft music becoming audible after some immediately preceding loud passage, as the "general agreement" method would produce and as happens at the ends of several movements in orchestral works by Charles Ives. The piece was likely written on and for a piano of lighter construction than an iron-framed Steinway and the audibility of the intended crescendo-decrescendo effect might be enhanced when performed on a period-appropriate instrument. I have no nearby piano of any kind to test any of these claims out, unfortunately.

But as someone versed in the physics of musical instruments, I can say that I believe a literal interpretation of the mechanics of the passage are more likely to produce something closer to the notated crescendo-decrescendo effect than the "general agreement" method. Silently pressing the keys does not put sufficient energy into the "system" for it to respond with more resonances when the pedal is pushed for the second time. It is also clear that the literal interpretation requires more skill than the "general agreement" method, both in not overstriking the ppp chord and in the timing of the pedal actions.

I don't find the irony that Rosen does here. But I do agree with him that this is a pianistic effect. It is so piano-specific, in fact, that calling for it requires an extremely intimate knowledge of the instrument and its behavior under unusual conditions. But what deeper and more appropriate and non-ironic tribute can a virtuoso pianist-composer pay to a virtuoso violinist-composer than to acknowledge the latter's intimate -- indeed, some thought satanic -- knowledge of the capabilities of the violin with a devilish display of familiarity with how the piano works?

--Sixtus

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Re: Sostenuto pedal usage in piano literature

Postby panda » Fri Jan 29, 2010 9:51 am

I suggest you have a look at Stephen Hough's fascinating blog the other day, where he suggests that the sostenuto pedal is rarely needed at all except in contemporary music (see http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/st ... dle-pedal/). The comments on this are very interesting too.

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Re: Sostenuto pedal usage in piano literature

Postby vinteuil » Sat Jan 30, 2010 3:17 am

sbeckmesser wrote:
perlnerd666 wrote:The general agreement is that the pedal is held through the ff f minor chords, then one uses the hands to hold down the e-flat dominant 7 without playing them...then release the pedal leaving only the overtones of the E-Flat chord


In contrast to the "general agreement," the Banowetz book I cited argues for a literal interpretation of the passage. That is, actually play the E-flat chord ppp, disengage the damper pedal at the bar line (thus eliminating both the f-minor chord and the resonances of the E-flat chord) and immediately engage it again (which would let both the fundamentals of the E-flat chord and whatever sympathetic continuing vibrations that spread around the instrument ring on -- not all of them would be harmonics, strictly speaking). The book argues that when performed in this way you actually get some sort of crescendo-decrescendo effect, as marked in the score. I think the notation says that Schumann apparently wants the E-flat chord to softly "fade in," as we say nowadays, which is not precisely the same thing as soft music becoming audible after some immediately preceding loud passage, as the "general agreement" method would produce and as happens at the ends of several movements in orchestral works by Charles Ives. The piece was likely written on and for a piano of lighter construction than an iron-framed Steinway and the audibility of the intended crescendo-decrescendo effect might be enhanced when performed on a period-appropriate instrument. I have no nearby piano of any kind to test any of these claims out, unfortunately.

But as someone versed in the physics of musical instruments, I can say that I believe a literal interpretation of the mechanics of the passage are more likely to produce something closer to the notated crescendo-decrescendo effect than the "general agreement" method. Silently pressing the keys does not put sufficient energy into the "system" for it to respond with more resonances when the pedal is pushed for the second time. It is also clear that the literal interpretation requires more skill than the "general agreement" method, both in not overstriking the ppp chord and in the timing of the pedal actions.

I don't find the irony that Rosen does here. But I do agree with him that this is a pianistic effect. It is so piano-specific, in fact, that calling for it requires an extremely intimate knowledge of the instrument and its behavior under unusual conditions. But what deeper and more appropriate and non-ironic tribute can a virtuoso pianist-composer pay to a virtuoso violinist-composer than to acknowledge the latter's intimate -- indeed, some thought satanic -- knowledge of the capabilities of the violin with a devilish display of familiarity with how the piano works?

--Sixtus

I surrender! (I'd never heard that other opinion...and upon trying it...) :)
Incidentally, a very good book for this is called "The Art of Piano Pedaling" which is good for many other areas, obviously.
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Re: Sostenuto pedal usage in piano literature

Postby sbeckmesser » Sat Jan 30, 2010 5:08 am

perlnerd666 wrote:I'd never heard that other opinion...and upon trying it...


Actually, under the influence of a lecture/demonstration/performance of Carnaval I attended many years ago presented by none other than the great Charles Rosen himself, I thought silent-chord "general agreement" method of playing this passage was what Schumann actually wrote, Rosen being, for the most part, an advocate of good Urtext or, in the case of Schumann, first editions. Imagine my surprise the other day on encountering the Banowetz book on Google Books and reading the excerpt I cited. So I looked at the complete-edition score at IMSLP (not being a pianist I didn't have a copy of Carnaval lying around) and wrote my lengthy response. I'm eager to experiment with it as soon as I can get to a reasonably good piano (action and tuning both in good condition).

--Sixtus

PS: Maybe it's another of Schumann's idiosyncrasies or maybe it's my own piano playing inadequacies (I'm primarily a violinist) but the notated pedaling in Carnaval at times seems downright weird (held down for many bars at a time, or not used at all when it might otherwise help). Maybe the pedaling makes more sense on a Schumann-period piano.

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Re: Sostenuto pedal usage in piano literature

Postby vinteuil » Sat Jan 30, 2010 8:14 pm

sbeckmesser wrote:
perlnerd666 wrote:I'd never heard that other opinion...and upon trying it...


Actually, under the influence of a lecture/demonstration/performance of Carnaval I attended many years ago presented by none other than the great Charles Rosen himself, I thought silent-chord "general agreement" method of playing this passage was what Schumann actually wrote, Rosen being, for the most part, an advocate of good Urtext or, in the case of Schumann, first editions. Imagine my surprise the other day on encountering the Banowetz book on Google Books and reading the excerpt I cited. So I looked at the complete-edition score at IMSLP (not being a pianist I didn't have a copy of Carnaval lying around) and wrote my lengthy response. I'm eager to experiment with it as soon as I can get to a reasonably good piano (action and tuning both in good condition).

--Sixtus

PS: Maybe it's another of Schumann's idiosyncrasies or maybe it's my own piano playing inadequacies (I'm primarily a violinist) but the notated pedaling in Carnaval at times seems downright weird (held down for many bars at a time, or not used at all when it might otherwise help). Maybe the pedaling makes more sense on a Schumann-period piano.

That's it - Beethoven has a similar thing (he is said to have used the pedal a lot more frequently - but as a blur)
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Re: Sostenuto pedal usage in piano literature

Postby kongming819 » Mon Feb 15, 2010 4:54 pm

What about the opening of Saint-Saëns' 2nd Piano Concerto? I think that that's actually more commonly played with the damper pedal, but the sostenuto pedal could work too, since I think Saint-Saëns was looking to emulate the effect of a sustained organ pedal. I don't remember if it is explicitly mentioned, but it makes sense.

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Re: Sostenuto pedal usage in piano literature

Postby vinteuil » Tue Feb 16, 2010 4:02 am

I did mention...and he does not explicitly mention it...but I think that sostenuto is rather common.
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Re: Sostenuto pedal usage in piano literature

Postby kongming819 » Tue Feb 16, 2010 4:12 am

Oh sorry, I just saw that... I just skimmed through haha

I suppose sostenuto would be good for the opening of Mahler's 1st, if anyone would be interested in playing it on piano (apologies if this has already been mentioned)


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