Piano Pedals – History of Piano Pedals

piano-pedal-diagram piano-pedal

Piano pedals have existed for almost as long as the modern piano itself, but they had a rocky start. While the modern piano accepted most of its final touches, the evolution of the piano pedal continued.

In 1722, the piano’s first tone-modifying mechanism came in the form of a hand stop, and was created by Father Piano himself: Bartolomeo Cristifori. The device positioned the hammers to strike only one piano string per key, which created a soft, relaxed timbre. But it was far from ideal; a spare hand was required to use it, meaning the pianist either repeatedly removed one hand from the keys, or practiced alongside a hand-stop operator. Thankfully, the mechanism was later modified to be operated by the knee, and became the predecessor to today’s una corda, or “soft,” pedal.

The next modification arrived soon after. Gottfried Silbermann — renowned European constructor of keyboard instruments — created a mechanism that lifted the dampers off of the strings, causing a reverb effect. This early sustain pedal had an advantage over most modern sustains: treble and bass notes could be controlled separately from one another; however, like the una corda, the sustain did not start off as a foot pedal; an impracticality which may have justified its early unpopularity. Today, the sustain is the most frequently used, and possibly the most favored, piano pedal.

Which brings us to the underdog: the sostenuto pedal. Created in the mid 1800s by Boisselot & Sons, it is by far the most misunderstood piano pedal. The sostenuto is constantly being replaced — or removed entirely — from its position as the middle pedal, and is only standard on an American grand. It allows certain notes to be “sustained” while other notes are left unaffected, and even piano leader Steinway saw potential in the pedal, opting to patent the idea three years after its début in 1844. But, surprisingly, the impressive effects of the sostenuto never caught on.

Alternative middle pedals have included practice rails, which muffle the notes for quiet practice; and the faux-sostenuto, which allows only the bass notes to resonate. Most modern pianos now have only two pedals, leaving the sostenuto –- one of the most unique and inspiring pedals –- to fade into antiquity.

via Piano Pedals – History of Piano Pedals.


March 26 ~ Today in Music History


. 1827 ~ German composer Ludwig van Beethoven died in Vienna. Beethoven is considered one of the greatest western composers ever. He composed many of his finest works after he had become totally deaf.

. 1828 ~ Franz Schubert, Austrian composer, performed his one and only public concert in the capital city of Vienna.

. 1871 ~ François-Joseph Fetis died.  He was a Belgian musicologist, composer, teacher, and influential music critic.

. 1918 ~ Cesar Cui, Russian composer, died
More information about Cui

. 1921 ~ Joe Loco (Jose Esteves, Jr.), Jazz musician, arranger, credited with introducing the mambo (1951) and cha-cha-cha (1953) to the US

. 1925 ~ Pierre Boulez, French composer and conductor. His later work, notably “Le Marteau sans maitre,” gained him a worldwide reputation.
More information on Boulez
Grammy winner

. 1929 ~ Maurice Simon, Jazz musician, tenor sax

. 1940 ~ Rod Lauren, Singer

. 1941 ~ Jimmy Lunceford and his orchestra recorded the tune, Battle Axe, for Decca Records. Lunceford began with the Chickasaw Syncopaters, a 10-piece band, in the late 1920s. By 1934, he would add names like Sy Oliver, Willie Smith, Earl Caruthers, Joe Thomas, Al Norris, Moses Allen, and James Crawford to form orchestras that would entertain through the mid-1940s.

. 1944 ~ Diana Ross (Diane Earle), American pop soul singer with The Supremes

. 1948 ~ Richard Tandy, Bass with Electric Light Orchestra

. 1948 ~ Steven Tyler (Tallarico), Singer with Aerosmith

. 1949 ~ Vicki Lawrence, Emmy Award-winning actress, singer

. 1949 ~ Fran Sheehan, Bass with Boston

. 1950 ~ Teddy Pendergrass, American soul singer, songwriter and drummer

. 1974 ~ David Essex received a gold record for the hit, Rock On. Though a million seller, Rock On never made it to number one on the pop-rock charts – stalling at number five. It was on the charts for a total of 14 weeks. Essex portrayed the role of Christ in the London production of Godspell. He starred in several British films in 1970. 1975 ~ Tommy, the film based on the rock opera by the group, The Who, premiered in London.

. 2000 ~ John Corigliano won an Oscar for the score to the movie The Red Violin

. 2015 ~ Joseph Smith died.  He was a well-liked, modest and warmly adventurous New York pianist.

Benita Meshulam, a close friend, wrote: “Joe was the most curious musician I have ever known, always looking for forgotten works, studying them thoroughly. He was interested not only in the works but the composers and investigated everything. He was a pianist who didn’t care about the condition of the pianos he performed on. It was his message that he wanted to get across–a real musician’s musician who lived and breathed his art. He was also the kindest and most generous colleague.”