I’m Robert Estrin and this is LivingPianos.com. The question today came from a reader who asks, “How do you know when the pedal markings are written by the composer?” So, the fundamental question is, “Do composers write in pedal markings for the piano?” The simple answer is, the vast majority of the time, no. You might wonder why not? Why do they do it sometimes and not all the time? Here’s the long and short of it.
Pedaling on the piano encompasses so many decisions that are made not only from an artistic and personal expression standpoint, but also the acoustics of the room. For example, let’s say you are performing a concert in a church or a chapel that has very live acoustics. It is almost like putting the pedal down with an echoing effect. In a room such as that in order to not get a muddy sound, you would use much less pedal than in a dry room with carpeting and drapes where there is no natural reverberation.
Pianos also differ. When you play a high note like the third E above middle C on a Mason and Hamlin piano, there is a damper which stops the sound as soon as you release the key. The note ends very quickly. The F right above has no damper and rings on even after you let go of the key. Some pianos have dampers all the way to F sharp and G is the first note that rings on after the release of the key. If you were playing a Steinway or a Baldwin, the E has no damper! So, it rings on long after the key is released.
You have to be able to determine where to use pedaling based upon the specific piano and acoustics of the room.
Where do composers write pedal markings in? If there is a place where you wouldn’t expect the pedal to be used, they may write it in to guide you so you’ll understand the composer’s intentions. However, oftentimes you’ll see pedal markings all over the score.
How do you know if pedal markings are written by the composer?
I recommend getting editions that are referred to as “urtext”. Urtext editions are only what the composers wrote. If there are other markings, they usually will have them in a different typeset. They may be in grey or have footnotes telling you what is original and what the editor has added.
Composers almost never wrote fingerings in. Whenever you see fingerings on your score on your piano, those are written in by the editor, not the composer.
Pedal markings and sometimes expression markings can be added by the editor.
You want to know what the composer actually wrote, which is no easy task. This is why you want to have an authoritative edition that goes through all the old autographed editions and early printed scores. This way you can determine what is actually authentic from the composer.
You have to use your own judgment with pedaling. The guides you see are only editorial suggestions the vast majority of the time. It gets even trickier still. For example, Beethoven sometimes wrote pedal markings in. If you have ever had the opportunity to play a Beethoven era piano, you will hear how drastically different they are from modern pianos.
You may not pedal the same on a Beethoven era piano as you would on a modern piano.
You have to take it all with a grain of salt. A good teacher will guide beginners and intermediate students writing in pedal markings so they will understand the nature of how to deal with pedal changes. It is generally where harmonies change, however, it can get much more complicated in music that has different lines and notes you can’t possibly hold with your fingers.
There is an art to pedaling just as there is to fingering and other aspects of playing the piano. A great teacher and good authoritative editions serve you well. Thanks for the great question! We’ll see you next time here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store.