Johann Sebastian Bach

How do you pedal in Bach preludes?

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2008-03-06 09:54:10
2008-03-06 09:54:10

In Bach's time, to be true in form was an all toe technique. I learned a heel-toe technique in college and that is how I pedal Bach's works.

If one looks at online videos of HIP (Historically Informed Performances) by famous Bach organists such as Ton Koopman - one sees that it is use of toes.

If you are talking about piano pedaling, there's no easy answer. The instruments Bach could have had in mind for performance were primarily the clavichord, harpsichord and organ. Neither of these had a damper pedal. Some device (usually credited to Silbermann) that could theoretically be used much like a modern damper pedal existed during most of Bach's life, but Bach never wrote explicitly for such an instrument, nor did he use one to any extent. Furthermore, and this is really the important part, these early pianos were very different from modern pianos, and the damper pedal as well had a different effect on the sound. The kind of legato pedaling typical of Romantic and later piano technique simply didn't exist at that time, and the pedal was probably regarded as a coloristic effect, more similar in use to a harpsichord lute stop than to the damper pedal of Chopin.

Given this, there is no such thing as authentic pedal technique in Bach. Some people argue that you should, for this reason, not use the pedal at all, in accordance with what would be possible on a clavichord or harpsichord. Others rather say that if you're using a modern piano, you should use it to its full effect and in its own idiom, rather than try to imitate another instrument. Also, "authenticity" can perhaps not be considered a factor, since by using a modern piano you stray very far from any authenticity anyway.

Of course, since it was not written for such an instrument, Bach's keyboard music never truly requires pedaling, although some cases, such as the B-flat minor prelude and fugue from WTC1 and the F minor prelude and fugue from WTC2, do seem to call for legato pedaling in order to maintain good, idiomatic modern piano phrasing. On the other hand, the strict polyphonic nature, independence of parts, and swiftness of harmonic and melodic movement, in much of Bach's music, is often quite unsuited to a more Romantic approach to pedaling.

Many piano players agree that pedalling should be used to improve the tonality of the piece, but should be kept to a minimum so that the Baroque style can still be differentiated from Romantic. This means that there should not be pedal 'blurs' in the Baroque piece, keeping the quavers, if possible, slightly detached.

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