What Does Chopin Sound Like Without the Pedal?

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Welcome to www.Livingpianos.com. I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about what Chopin sounds like without the pedal. When I talk about the pedal I’m talking about the sustain pedal. It’s the one on the right that holds all the notes when you put it down. It’s a glorious thing! It makes everything sound better, doesn’t it? And louder too! It helps you to connect what you can’t connect with your fingers.

What is the job of the pedal in music in general, and in Chopin specifically?

The pedal actually has two distinct functions. One is to connect notes you can’t connect with your hands. For example, you will see music where you have a whole note in the lower register and other things going on in the upper register. You can’t possibly hold that whole note because you’ve got other notes to play. Pedal to the rescue! There is no way to hold those notes with your hands. So sometimes music is written in such a way that you depend upon the pedal to play what’s written in the score. But there’s also the tone enhancement that the pedal affords you in your musical performance.

When you play a note with the pedal, you get a different sound than without the pedal.

If you listen to a note with no pedal compared to the same note played with the pedal down, you will hear that it gets more of a reverberant sound with the pedal down. When you depress the pedal the dampers lift off of all the strings so they are free to vibrate sympathetically, enhancing the tone. And indeed, when you depress the pedal it will have an effect upon the tone, the envelope of the sound. That is the shape of the decay. You can enhance the sustain by judiciously using the pedal just at the point at which the tone might be dying away. But that’s a subject for another day.

What does Chopin sound like without the pedal? Of course it depends upon what piece of Chopin. The famous E-flat Nocturne Opus 9 no. 2, for example, doesn’t really have notes you can’t hold in terms of what’s written in the score, but it’s implied to use the pedal.

When I play without the pedal I strive to connect as much as possible with my fingers.

I can’t connect everything I want to with just my fingers. But I try my best so that the pedal can enhance the sound and not be used as a crutch for things that I can connect with my fingers. You want to strive for your playing to be as legato as possible with your fingers before putting the pedal in. Because if you practice it with the pedal right from the get-go, you might not use the ideal fingering in order to connect as much as possible. So you want to connect with your fingers everything you can. Then it becomes obvious where to pedal. And of course, adding the pedal gives you a much more beautiful sound. Plus you can hold the bass notes to get a richer sound and a more linear quality to bass notes, and indeed the inner voices as well. With the pedal, you get the sense of the line instead of just the chords. The bassline has enough sustain from note to note, instead of just being sporadic.

With the Chopin G Minor Ballade indeed, you not only need the pedal to get the sense of the lines, but there are notes you just can’t possibly hold without it. This is the genius of Chopin! It’s amazing that he could conceive of, and write down music that would work so incredibly well with the pedal. Without the pedal it practically sounds like a whole different piece!

So that’s what the pedal adds to Chopin!

There’s a richness to the quality of the sound you get with the pedal. You get sustained harmonies and a linear aspect of all the lines, from the bass all the way to the treble. Not to mention the enhancement of the tone. Because you can use the pedal to get little gradations of tone in the melody to make one note kind of meld into the next by enriching it with sympathetic vibrations that the other strings allow for when you release the dampers with the sustain pedal.

I hope this has been interesting for you! Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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