A History of Piano Pedals



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.

April 5 in Music History


. 1724 ~ Giovanni Jacopo Casanova de Seingalt, Italian violinist During his life he was also a seminarian, a secretary to a cardinal, a Venetian ensign, an abbe, a gambler, an alchemist, a spy, a lover, adventurer, and a librarian.

. 1784 ~ Ludwig Spohr, German violinist, composer and conductor

. 1869 ~ Albert Roussel, French composer

. 1908 ~ Herbert von Karajan, Austrian conductor

. 1922 ~ Gale Storm (Josephine Cottle), Singer

. 1925 ~ Stan Levey, Musician, composer, drummer in band with Charlie Parker

. 1928 ~ Tony Williams, Singer with The Platters

. 1932 ~ Billy Bland, Singer

. 1934 ~ Stanley Turrentine, Jazz musician – tenor sax
More about Turrentine

. 1940 ~ Tommy Cash, Songwriter, Johnny Cash’s brother

. 1946 ~ Vincent Youmans passed away.  He was an American Broadway composer and Broadway producer.

. 1958 ~ Johnny Mathis’ album, Johnny’s Greatest Hits, on Columbia Records, made it to the pop music charts for the first time. The LP remained on the charts for a record 490 weeks (nearly 9~1/2 years!) The record began its stay at number one (three weeks) on June 9, 1958. Mathis studied opera from age 13 and earned a track and field scholarship at San Francisco State College. He was invited to Olympic try-outs and chose a singing career instead. He was originally a jazz-style singer when Columbia switched Mathis to singing pop ballads. Johnny would chart over 60 albums in 30 years.

. 1982 ~ After eight years of publication to the radio and recording industry, Record World magazine ceased publication and filed for bankruptcy protection.

. 1985 ~ Broadcasters banded together to play the single, We Are the World, at 10:50 a.m. E.S.T. Stations in the United States were joined by hundreds of others around the world in a sign of unification for the African relief cause. Even Muzak made the song only the second vocal selection it has ever played in elevators and offices since its inception.