Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s question is: Can you make a crescendo on a chord on the piano? How many of you have seen a held chord with a crescendo on it in your score? How can you possibly do something like that? Did the composer not understand the physics of the piano, or were they just crazy?! Why would they ever write a crescendo on a held chord? Well, there are some very good compositional reasons for this, and I’m going to show you how you can achieve the effect of a crescendo on a chord on the piano!
Sometimes you will see a crescendo on a held chord in your score.
As an example of this, I’ve pulled up Grieg’s Lyric Pieces. In the third one, called Watchman’s Song, near the very end, there is a held chord with a crescendo on it. What is meant by that crescendo? Well, the composer is trying to show you that this phrase is not ending gently. It’s moving forward. There are some things you can do to achieve this effect; one way is with the use of the sustain pedal.
The sustain pedal can create the sense of a crescendo on a held chord.
When you use the pedal on a chord, you get a little bit of a sense of growth in the sound as all the other strings of the piano can resonate because the dampers are lifted. When you play it and gently move forward right at that point, you almost get the sense of a crescendo. You can play the chord a little bit louder in anticipation of the crescendo, pedaling very soon after the initial attack to get more of a booming sound. Whereas usually the way to pedal chords is to pedal just as the chord starts fading away to mitigate the dying away of the chord thereby increasing the sustain. But when you’re trying to get a downright crescendo, put the pedal down very soon after the initial attack. Your attack should be stronger than it would be without a crescendo. Keep things moving forward, almost anticipating the next chord to try to get the sense of a crescendo.
Indeed, you can get the effect of a crescendo on a chord!
Even though physically it’s not really possible, you can get the effect of a crescendo by utilizing the pedal, anticipating the crescendo a little bit early, and letting the music move along through the crescendo. That’s what the composer intended. They weren’t out of their minds. It wasn’t like they didn’t understand the physics of the sound of a piano. I’m sure Grieg understood! You can hear the effect that it creates when you follow the composer’s intentions. After all, the piano is an instrument of illusion. There’s so much we do with the piano that you wouldn’t think is possible. Just getting a singing line out of a percussion instrument, where every note is dying away, is a huge challenge. So this is what you must do. Think of what the composer intended and find a way to achieve it with the way you approach the music and how you apply the pedal. I hope this has been helpful for you! Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
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2 thoughts on “Can You Make a Crescendo on a Chord on the Piano?”
So what seems to me to be happening is that first you play a chord with all the other dampers down, putting a lot of energy into the strings for that chord only. When you lift all the dampers, some of that energy transfers to the rest of the strings. There’s no new energy, but what energy there is couples to the soundboard more efficiently because the additional strings provide a path with less resistance. It might be interesting to look at the waveforms in Audacity and maybe we’d see a slower decay.
It’s amazing how you can change the envelope of the sound in how you use the pedal!