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 Post subject: Bach, The Piano, and The Damper Pedal
PostPosted: Mon Aug 29, 2011 5:56 am 
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A little while back, concerning a performance of Bach on PS, someone made the oft heard statement "Pedal should not be used in Bach becase Bach didn't have a pedal". (Not an exact quote but I've heard, and even uttered that basic idea for years). I jokingly said to myself "Mozart didn't have pedals either." He did have knee controls for the dampers.

So I decided to first try to discover when some form of damper control was added to the piano. And since I was thinking of the pianos at the time of Bach, I decided to explore what other devices, effects, and so forth would have been on the piano at that time and with which Bach may have had experience. Obviously the information that I have collected needs further research and documentation, but this isn't a dissertation so I will just report what I have collected.

First, the players:
1. Bartolomeo Christophori (May 4, 1655 – January 27, 1731)
2. Gottfrieb Silbermann (14 Jan 1683 - 4 Aug 1753)
3. Johann Sebastian Bach[1] (21 March 1685, O.S. [31 March 1685, N.S.] – 28 July 1750, N.S.)

Note that Silbermann was born about 2 years before Bach and died about 3 years after Bach.

Christophori is said to have invented the piano in the early 1700's. It was invented by 1709 when Scipione Maffei did research on the newly invented piano, including an interview with Cristofori, and published his findings (with a ringing endorsement of the instrument) in a 1711 Italian journal article.

Christophori's pianos were double strung throughout its range. It is said that fairly early in Christophori's develpment of the piano he added an "una corde" device. This consisted of a hand knob at either end of the keyboard which the performer used to slide the entire action to the right (just as on the modern grand, except that we do it by pedal) in order to play just one string for each key. Of course, if the una corde was engaged, it would need to be used through and entire movement, or at least a section that had a substantial pause in the music to allow time to slide the keyboard the other way.

In 1725, the Maffei article was translated into German by the Dresden court poet Johann Ulrich König, who was almost certainly a personal acquaintance of Silbermann. Sometime after this, Silbermann acquired Christophori's design and built the same type instrument. I have seen it said that he had acquired an earlier design that did not have improvements made by Christophori, particularly the "inverted wrest plank", which from what I can tell has to do with the tuning pins and tuning stability.

Evidence from the Universal-Lexicon of Johann Heinrich Zedler indicates that Silbermann first built a piano in 1732. This was a year after Christophori had died so the design and improvements were set. The question remains if the design that Silbermann had contained the plan for the "una corde" device. (Bach was in Leipzig, age 47). From this point, except for the 3 years between Bach's death and Silbermann's death, anything that Silbermann had added to the piano could well have been on the pianos with which Bach had experience.

It is not clear when Bach actually first saw the piano. Johann Friedrich Agricola (musician and son-in-law to Bach), tells a story about the relationship of Silbermann, Johann Sebastian Bach, and pianos. After Silbermann had completed two instruments, Agricola says, "Silbermann showed them to Bach, who replied critically, saying that the tone was weak in the treble and the keys were hard to play. Silbermann was stung and angered by the criticism, but ultimately took it to heart and was able to improve his pianos (exactly how is not known, but it may have been the result of Silbermann's encountering Cristofori's most mature instruments). The improved Silbermann pianos met with Bach's "complete approval". So it could have been as early as the 1732 date.

[An momentary aside: First, though Agricola is not clear when Bach first saw Silbermann's pianos, it seems to imply that it was rather early in Silbermann's work with pianos. It does make sense to me that Silbermann would want Bach's endorsement of the instrument as early as possible. Though Bach was considered old school in his compositions, he was well known and admired as a virtuoso keyboard performer. An endorsement by Bach for this new instrument surely couldn't hurt sales.

Second, often it has been written that "Bach disliked the piano at first". Personally I think this is an unfair assesment of Agricola's story. It has the connotation of an old fuddy-duddy saying "why do we need this new-fangled contraption." Bach loved the clavichord because of its dynamic nuances. Why would he not be interested in an instrument that had similar nuances available, but could be used in a larger venue? He was also known to combine organ stops in unusual ways that were not "by the book", not part of the organ design, and that would make the builders cringe, expecting a bad effect, when Bach's registrations would ultimately provide wonderful sound combinations.

In the case of these early pianos, Bach gave a specific critique. Silbermann listened and Bach approved.

Third, Bach may have had more personal experience with the piano than we had thought. Apparently a preserved sales voucher dated May 8, 1749 shows that Bach acted as an intermediary for Silbermann in the sale of at least one of his pianos. I would love to see that sales slip, or go into a piano store and be greeted by Bach.]

During the 1740s, King Frederick the Great of Prussia became acquainted with Silbermann's pianos and bought a number of them (the early 19th century musicologist Johann Nikolaus Forkel claims this number was 15, though Stewart Pollens believes this to be "certainly exaggerated"). According to one source that I found, when Bach visited his son, C.P.E Bach in Potsdam, King Fredrick took him on a tour of the pianos in his palaces. It was on a piano that Bach first improvised on King Fredrick's theme that would later become "A Musical Offering". (So is this actually a piano piece by Bach???)

After all of that you probably thought that I forgot about the damper. Not so. Guess what -- Silbermann invented a device by which the player could lift all of the dampers off the strings, permitting them to vibrate freely, either when struck or sympathetically when other notes were played!!! Could any of the pianos that Bach was familiar with have had this control??? Quite possibly, so though he didn't have a pedal, he may well have had some control of the dampers.

Silbermann's device was different from the modern damper pedal in two respects. First, it was not actually controlled by a pedal, but rather was a hand stop, which required the player to cease playing on the keys for a moment in order to change the damper configuration. Thus, it was a device for imparting an unusual tonal color to whole passages, rather than a means of nuanced expression as the pedal is today. Second, Silbermann's device was bifurcated, permitting the dampers of the treble and bass sections to be lifted separately.

The device would obviously need to be used on a piece with slow harmonic changes (such as the first prelude of WTC1 -- which of course could not have been written with this in mind). Since the pianos of the day did not have near the resonance, it would not have been such a noisy mess that it would be on todays instrument. Consider that this is the basic effect that Beethoven asks for in the first movement of the "Moonlight".

In conclusion, while this information gives no more justification to use the damper pedal in modern performances of Bach's music on the piano, it does somewhat deflate the blanket statement that one should never use it because his instruments did not have a "pedal". In the end it still comes to interpretive choices based on the needs of the music.

Scott


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 Post subject: Re: Bach, The Piano, and The Damper Pedal
PostPosted: Mon Aug 29, 2011 1:18 pm 
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Thank you, Scott, for the very informative report. I've used some pedal in the few Bach pieces I have played - I've never bought into that notion of "you can't use such and such (pedal) because such and such wasn't invented yet at the time. That person to me is too close-minded and like stuck in mud. And although I can't claim to know anything about Bach's character, I can't imagine him being close-minded to any new keyboard innovations during his time.

Anyway, again, thank you for sharing your findings with us. It's a nice endeavor and I'm almost thinking that we could have a sort of 'library' on the main site for member-written articles dealing with pianos/piano music issues.

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 Post subject: Re: Bach, The Piano, and The Damper Pedal
PostPosted: Mon Aug 29, 2011 7:15 pm 
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Location: Springfield, Missouri, USA
First,
I nominate this to be the inaugral post for a Hall-of-Fame of posts. :D Thanks very much for your investigation Scott.
Quote:
Silbermann's device was different from the modern damper pedal in two respects. First, it was not actually controlled by a pedal, but rather was a hand stop, which required the player to cease playing on the keys for a moment in order to change the damper configuration. Thus, it was a device for imparting an unusual tonal color to whole passages, rather than a means of nuanced expression as the pedal is today.

This may be exactly what would have been used in the Haydn great C Major sonata, No.60 (but 50 in Hoboken system), 1st movement(?) "senza dampfer."

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 Post subject: Re: Bach, The Piano, and The Damper Pedal
PostPosted: Tue Aug 30, 2011 9:11 am 
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The question I would put is, was the pedal widespread enough and functional that Bach would have been able to make practical use of it? After all, if only he and 5 others had the technical means to perform music using this pedal, it would be of little use to write music that could not be played by, say, his pupils, because they had no such piano. Have you uncovered any evidence he composed anything especially for the piano?

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"Please do not shoot the pianist
He is doing his best."
Oscar Wilde: Impressions of America: Leadville


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 Post subject: Re: Bach, The Piano, and The Damper Pedal
PostPosted: Tue Aug 30, 2011 6:53 pm 
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richard66 wrote:
The question I would put is, was the pedal widespread enough and functional that Bach would have been able to make practical use of it? After all, if only he and 5 others had the technical means to perform music using this pedal, it would be of little use to write music that could not be played by, say, his pupils, because they had no such piano. Have you uncovered any evidence he composed anything especially for the piano?


Of course the device was neither pedal or knee lever but a pull stop that was either on or off until you had a free moment to reverse it. It actually would have been of limited use. I did experiment with the first prelude in C major from WTC I that would seem to be the type of music where Silbermann's damper device could be used. I played using the una corde (which effectively changes the modern piano into only two strings per key as were the pianos of that time. I then used somewhere between quarter and half-pedal, since the overall sustain power of those instruments would have been less. Let me just say that it didn't not work (the double negative is intentional).

Of course the piano today is an entirely different instrument and in many was is only tentatively related to the piano of that period. I was sort of poking fun at using such a blanket statement "you shouldn't use the pedal in Bach's music because his instruments didn't have one." By extension, one could just as easily say that you shouldn't play Bach's music on a modern piano because he didn't have anything like it. One should no more use the damper pedal, or the una corde, or any other device or effect on the piano in any particular music unless it is appropriate to the music (Debussy did not write his music to have a person push the damper pedal down at the beginning and not lift it until the piece is over).

Bach's clavier (general keyboard as opposed to his specifically organ works) was usually written with the idea that it would be played on which ever keyboard a person had available. He rarely indicated anything about particular effects only available on a specific instrument. He would have left the use of such effects up to the taste of the performer. I do realize that some were most likely written with a particular keyboard in mind, such as the Italian Concerto for harpsichord and his harpsichord concertos, since in the latter a clavichord would not be heard. Even to some extent, his organ works are available and would have been at least practiced on instruments other than the organ. Remember, in his time, it took two people to play an organ. You didn't just decide to pop by the church, turn the organ on and practice, you needed someone to pump air. And then you may need someone to draw stops through the course of a piece since not all organs placed the stop knobs where they were easily accesible to the performer. Thus more practice would have been done on pedal harpsichords and pedal clavichords than on organ.

Did Bach write a piece specifically for the piano? In my research, King Frederick gave Bach the theme that would later be the theme for the "Musical Offering" upon which to improvise while he was showing Bach his collection of Silbermann pianos. It is very possible that this original improvisation was on a piano. Whether he specifically intended the collection, or any part of it, specifically for the piano, is not known, but since the piano was a part of its inception, it is hard to imagine that it was no where in his mind during the composition process. And since its inception was at King Frederick's piano, I do believe that Bach would not have objected if the King played it on the piano. Within the realms of the "generic" keyboard that I mentioned above, this may be his first or even only piece that would have included the piano in his mental list of keyboard instruments.

Another interesting note is that, Silbermann was not some backwater organ/harpsichord builder who thought he would try his hand at this new-fangled piano thing, he was actually a huge influence on the future of the instrument. Christophori was largely forgotten within a decade or so and until sometime in the 19th century, Silbermann was actually credited with inventing the piano. Silbermann also apprenticed a number of future piano makers (referred to as the "12 apostles" -- though I can only find a couple of names). One was Johann Andreas Stein, who fled to Vienna at the outbreak of the 12 years war, and would go on to build pianos about which Mozart would wax almost poetic in one of his letters to his papa. Another was Zumpke who went to England, worked for John Broadwood's father-in-law and later had his own company. Zumpke went on to design an affordable square piano, which became all the rage since it could fit into smaller places and helped to popularize the instrument. Also, Americus Backers, who designed the English Action, a modified version of Christophori's action and would become the basis of all modern actions.

With this in mind, we could say that Bach had an influence on the developement of the modern piano. It was his criticism of Silbermann's early pianos that sent him back to the drawing board to improve the design. Bach and Silbermann were contemporaries who crossed paths often in Central Germany.

Scott


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 Post subject: Re: Bach, The Piano, and The Damper Pedal
PostPosted: Tue Aug 30, 2011 8:00 pm 
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You problably have a point with the musical offering, as this was (I hope I am right) written especially for Frederick.

The reason I do no use pedal in Bach is not that he did not have one, but because his music was written in such a way that it is not necessary to use it, unless, of course, one decides to make it easy and instead of using one's fingers to connect the notes, uses the pedal. There are those like that out there.

The paragraph about the organ reminds me of a story my father told me once. He and a friend, while still children, were designated to pump the air into the organ at the local chuch but that every now and then they would begin daydreaming and quite forget to do the job with the results you can imagine: WAAAoooWAAA. :D

I remember reading, many years ago, about Bach and the piano and surely enough, there was a lot about his influence, being given pianos and been asked to evaluate them. If I remember rightly, the conclusion was that he still thought the harpsichord to be the superior instrument.

Just allow me two little corrections: Corde is the plural of corda (string), so one has una corda, due corde, tre corde. The spelling Christophori is an odd one: I have always seen Cristofori. Where did you find this other one?

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Richard Willmer
"Please do not shoot the pianist
He is doing his best."
Oscar Wilde: Impressions of America: Leadville


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 Post subject: Re: Bach, The Piano, and The Damper Pedal
PostPosted: Tue Aug 30, 2011 8:24 pm 
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RSPIll wrote:
Remember, in his time, it took two people to play an organ. You didn't just decide to pop by the church, turn the organ on and practice, you needed someone to pump air. And then you may need someone to draw stops through the course of a piece since not all organs placed the stop knobs where they were easily accesible to the performer. Thus more practice would have been done on pedal harpsichords and pedal clavichords than on organ.
Scott

Also remember that in his time he had 21 children because he had no stops on his organ. :lol:

(sorry, Scott, it's not every day I get an opporunity to tell this joke. Don't get mad at me; I'm done joking today - back to work....)

_________________
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my videos: http://www.youtube.com/user/monicapiano
my personal website: http://www.monicaalianello.com


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 Post subject: Re: Bach, The Piano, and The Damper Pedal
PostPosted: Tue Aug 30, 2011 10:23 pm 
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pianolady wrote:
RSPIll wrote:
Remember, in his time, it took two people to play an organ. You didn't just decide to pop by the church, turn the organ on and practice, you needed someone to pump air. And then you may need someone to draw stops through the course of a piece since not all organs placed the stop knobs where they were easily accesible to the performer. Thus more practice would have been done on pedal harpsichords and pedal clavichords than on organ.
Scott

Also remember that in his time he had 21 children because he had no stops on his organ. :lol:

(sorry, Scott, it's not every day I get an opporunity to tell this joke. Don't get mad at me; I'm done joking today - back to work....)


OMG, Monica I'll never speak to you again. :twisted: :wink:

That's a good one. Now I don't feel so bad about my Spanish bit on another thread. :lol:

Scott


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 Post subject: Re: Bach, The Piano, and The Damper Pedal
PostPosted: Tue Aug 30, 2011 10:43 pm 
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richard66 wrote:
You problably have a point with the musical offering, as this was (I hope I am right) written especially for Frederick.

The reason I do no use pedal in Bach is not that he did not have one, but because his music was written in such a way that it is not necessary to use it, unless, of course, one decides to make it easy and instead of using one's fingers to connect the notes, uses the pedal. There are those like that out there.

The paragraph about the organ reminds me of a story my father told me once. He and a friend, while still children, were designated to pump the air into the organ at the local chuch but that every now and then they would begin daydreaming and quite forget to do the job with the results you can imagine: WAAAoooWAAA. :D

I remember reading, many years ago, about Bach and the piano and surely enough, there was a lot about his influence, being given pianos and been asked to evaluate them. If I remember rightly, the conclusion was that he still thought the harpsichord to be the superior instrument.

Just allow me two little corrections: Corde is the plural of corda (string), so one has una corda, due corde, tre corde. The spelling Christophori is an odd one: I have always seen Cristofori. Where did you find this other one?


First, "Corde" -- yeah, I wan't thinking in Italian at the time (not sure I was really thinking at all). I know enough Spanish grammar (that over the years I have been able to apply to Italian) enough to know various plural forms. The "Christophori" spelling (which I suspect is a German transliteration) came from my cut and paste job of putting the info together. That was the first spelling that came about and I just kept writing it that way for consistency. I thought it looked strange at first, but was too lazy to check it out.

I can understand if Bach still thought the harpsichord a superior instrument to the early piano. The piano then was not as loud nor as bright so that it could it cut through an ensemble. As we know in hindsight, it took close to 200 years to fully develop the instrument.

In reality, I find few moments in his music that would require the pedal. Most places that can't be well connected with the fingers are probably meant to be articulated anyway. But, another use beyond sustaining would be for brightness particularly arpeggiated chords. It would allow for the sympathetic vibrations of the open strings on the various harmonics of the chord.

Scott


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