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#1495611 - 08/14/10 01:17 AM History of the sostenuto pedal?
jeffreyjones Online   content
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/31/10
Posts: 2361
Loc: San Jose, CA
This has bugged me for pretty much my whole life. Hardly anyone used the sostenuto pedal before Schoenberg in his Op. 11, and the kind of music that exploits its possibilities is hardly the kind that would sell thousands of pianos. So why the heck does every mid-range and up piano have a second pedal? Who decided this should be a standard feature on the instrument, and what was the thought process?

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#1495626 - 08/14/10 01:55 AM Re: History of the sostenuto pedal? [Re: jeffreyjones]
BruceD Offline
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Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 18153
Loc: Victoria, BC
It's always been interesting to me to note that so little has been written - at least that I have been able to find - about the actual history of the sostenuto pedal. I have a couple of books on the growth and development of the piano and the sostenuto pedal gets nothing more than a foot-note! (which is right, I suppose! :))

What I do recall having read is that it was patented sometime in the last half of the 19th century (perhaps around 1875) by Steinway, and shortly thereafter it was incorporated into many American grand pianos starting with Steinway.

Interestingly, there were many European grands that did not immediately incorporate the sostenuto pedal into their instruments, some didn't have it, even well into the 20th century.

While its feature can be quite useful, I wonder what was the rationale behind Steinway's developing it. Few composers before the 20th century actually wrote music where they expressly indicated the use of the sostenuto. It almost seems like a case of "build it, and they'll use it."

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#1495632 - 08/14/10 02:16 AM Re: History of the sostenuto pedal? [Re: BruceD]
BDB Offline
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Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21693
Loc: Oakland
It was invented in the 1840s in France, and perfected and standardized by Steinway about 15-20 years later.

It is useful in some situations, but it is hampered by two things: It is not standard in all pianos, particularly verticals, and it is complicated and difficult to use. It is very difficult to time properly so that it catches only the notes that one wants while missing the unwanted notes, so people do not use it very often. I believe that the soft pedal is actually less useful, but it has the advantage of being easy to use: Just stomp on it whenever. The damper pedal is the most useful, as well as the easiest to abuse, and few people actually master its use. That being the case, there is little wonder that so few people ever learn to use the sostenuto pedal effectively!
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#1495968 - 08/14/10 04:59 PM Re: History of the sostenuto pedal? [Re: BDB]
pianoman6584 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/22/10
Posts: 109
What I find odd is how some say that it is never used, but I see MAJOR application for it. Who wouldn't want to hold a bass note while playing two-handed stacco in the the upper register?

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#1496111 - 08/14/10 09:28 PM Re: History of the sostenuto pedal? [Re: pianoman6584]
Uncle George Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/08/10
Posts: 101
Loc: FL, USA
I have read somewhere that the French manufacturer Boisselot was the first to introduce the sostenuto pedal in his pianos (about the 1840s as BDB mentions) and that Liszt requested pianos from this manufacturer for the advantage of this pedal. Also that Josef Hofmann, at some point, had this pedal removed from his concert Steinway for fear of depressing it accidentally ????????


Uncle George

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#1496147 - 08/14/10 10:05 PM Re: History of the sostenuto pedal? [Re: BDB]
wdot Offline
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Registered: 12/28/07
Posts: 728
Loc: South Carolina, USA
Originally Posted By: BDB
It was invented in the 1840s in France, and perfected and standardized by Steinway about 15-20 years later.


I would love to know the basis for your statement that the pedal was invented in France in the 1840s. I thought the Steinway group invented it. I'm not being confrontational, but I've never heard that before.

I actually like fooling around with the sostenuto pedal on my Steinway L. But I really don't use it very often when push comes to shove.

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#1496148 - 08/14/10 10:06 PM Re: History of the sostenuto pedal? [Re: wdot]
BDB Offline
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Loc: Oakland
I think it was in Edwin Good's book.
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#1496164 - 08/14/10 10:28 PM Re: History of the sostenuto pedal? [Re: BDB]
JustAnotherPianist Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/20/08
Posts: 798
Loc: United Kingdom
Use of the sostenuto pedal is frowned upon in most standard repertoire. There are many many instances where using the sostenuto would enable the pianist to more accurately show the textures in the score. Whenever I have used the pedal in these instances, teachers and fellow pianists respond with something like 'oh don't do that....it sounds really gimmicky'

Don't know much about the history of the thing though

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#1496226 - 08/15/10 12:27 AM Re: History of the sostenuto pedal? [Re: JustAnotherPianist]
RealPlayer Offline
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Registered: 05/02/03
Posts: 2342
Loc: NYC
It's an important and valuable tool in 20th and 21st century music. It's just unfortunate that it's often out of adjustment on many concert pianos. If I am playing somewhere and know that my program will need it, I tell the hall management to make sure the technician dials it in at time of the tuning.
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#1496283 - 08/15/10 04:27 AM Re: History of the sostenuto pedal? [Re: RealPlayer]
Lemon Pledge Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/21/04
Posts: 353
Originally Posted By: RealPlayer
It's just unfortunate that it's often out of adjustment on many concert pianos.


This is why I don't use the middle pedal unless it's absolutely necessary. On 2 out of 3 pianos, it just doesn't work properly. I'm convinced that most technicians don't bother to check it unless specifically asked.

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#1496317 - 08/15/10 06:14 AM Re: History of the sostenuto pedal? [Re: wdot]
Pianosaurus Rex Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/12/10
Posts: 305
Originally Posted By: wdot
Originally Posted By: BDB
It was invented in the 1840s in France, and perfected and standardized by Steinway about 15-20 years later.


I would love to know the basis for your statement that the pedal was invented in France in the 1840s. I thought the Steinway group invented it. I'm not being confrontational, but I've never heard that before.

I actually like fooling around with the sostenuto pedal on my Steinway L. But I really don't use it very often when push comes to shove.


As far as I know it was Pleyel that invented it, though Steinway did indeed buy the patent to it much later.

I can't give you any links to my source though, since it's in a book I own, not on the internet, sorry.
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#1496363 - 08/15/10 09:07 AM Re: History of the sostenuto pedal? [Re: Pianosaurus Rex]
pianoloverus Online   content
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Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19479
Loc: New York City
Which compositions written before 1950 specifically have instructions to use the sostenuto pedal? Or in which is it "clearly obviously" the composer inteneded use of this pedal even though it was not indicated?

The only ones I'm familiar with are a lot of Grainger's pieces. He seems quite obsessed with using the sostenuto and marks it clearly.


Edited by pianoloverus (08/15/10 09:08 AM)

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#1496364 - 08/15/10 09:12 AM Re: History of the sostenuto pedal? [Re: RealPlayer]
pianoloverus Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19479
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: RealPlayer
It's an important and valuable tool in 20th and 21st century music. It's just unfortunate that it's often out of adjustment on many concert pianos. If I am playing somewhere and know that my program will need it, I tell the hall management to make sure the technician dials it in at time of the tuning.
Do most of the contemporary pieces you play have clear markings for the sostenuto pedal or do the composers just expect you to know when to employ it?

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#1496391 - 08/15/10 10:08 AM Re: History of the sostenuto pedal? [Re: pianoloverus]
jeffreyjones Online   content
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/31/10
Posts: 2361
Loc: San Jose, CA
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
Which compositions written before 1950 specifically have instructions to use the sostenuto pedal?


Copland Variations is the earliest one I can think of, IIRC. I mentioned Schoenberg Op. 11/1 but he actually just indicates to hold the keys silently with the right hand.

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#1496418 - 08/15/10 10:49 AM Re: History of the sostenuto pedal? [Re: jeffreyjones]
rocket88 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/06
Posts: 3167
Rachmaninoff Prelude in C# minor...the last section.
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#1496421 - 08/15/10 10:59 AM Re: History of the sostenuto pedal? [Re: pianoloverus]
Jeff Clef Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/05/08
Posts: 4429
Loc: San Jose, CA
From The Art of Teaching Piano, Denes Agay, ed., Yorktown pub. 2004 edition, pp. 116-121; ISBN 978-0-8256-8111-0:

"The most ignored pedaling tool is the middle, sostenuto, pedal. Regretably, this pedal usually functions imperfectly or not at all on upright instruments, and even on many grands may be poorly adjusted. The sostenuto pedal was first exhibited by the French firm of Boisselot and Sons of Marseilles at the Paris exposition of 1844, patented in both France and the United States in 1874, but was not widely incorporated by European manufacturers. In the United States, however, Steinway enthusiastically adopted it, and other companies soon followed his example..."

[in answer to OP's question, "Who decided this should be a standard feature on the instrument, and what was the thought process?" musical quotations and editorial comments from Schumann, Brahms, Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev, Liszt; references to other biblio. sources].


Edited by Jeff Clef (08/15/10 11:02 AM)
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#1496451 - 08/15/10 11:50 AM Re: History of the sostenuto pedal? [Re: rocket88]
pianoloverus Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19479
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: rocket88
Rachmaninoff Prelude in C# minor...the last section.
Not so sure about that piece because the Prelude was written about 1893 when I think only a small number of European pianos even had this pedal. The one edition I have suggests using the SP on the first page but not on the last page.

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#1496525 - 08/15/10 02:00 PM Re: History of the sostenuto pedal? [Re: pianoloverus]
Kuanpiano Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/06/10
Posts: 2151
Loc: Canada
The sostenuto pedal is useful for the prelude, but you can play it well without.

I remember hearing Yuja Wang playing Prokofiev's 6th sonata, and I think it was the 4rth movement where long notes were being held when she was playing the main motif (three descending thirds) in a very crisp staccato.
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