Art Song & Piano Pedalling II, “Ganymed” pt. B

So how should we approach Schubert’s “Ganymed?” First and foremost, take your confounded foot off the damper pedal! As I’ve ranted on before (and will continue to do so in the future I’m sure) keyboard musicians, whether it’s organists and their ceaseless slithering legato, or pianists with their obsessive use of the damper pedal, simply refuse to follow a composer’s phrasing and articulations; that is, unless it’s blatantly obvious. In short, organists play with too much legato, whilst pianists (our subject here) don’t play with enough — at least not legitimately. What do I mean by legitimately? Well, ironically, doing what organists have to do: connect the notes as smoothly as possible without a damper pedal. That sometimes requires some unorthodox fingering; but, so what? You do what you have do in order to get the job done.

OK, let’s start from the beginning. From the onset we see automatically that there are problems when it comes to pedalling. In the left hand it is clearly marked staccato whilst in the right hand plays basically legato with a variety of phrasings. It’s this separation of articulation between hands that makes use of the damper pedal problematic. Utilisation of the damper will immediately kill the staccato in the left hand, which should remain constant up to the third beat of m.6:


Which, is then followed by a measure of all legato:

Pasted Graphic 11

which any pianist should be able to play smoothly without pedal.

The staccato returns at m.8 and continues non-stop until the D minor chord at m.28. Moreover, pedalling can be cumbersome if the right hand is to be articulated according to Schubert’s indications. This is where pianists must learn to play legato with their fingers and not with the pedal.

So, at this point we have to review a basic lesson in articulation: at the end of a phrase one is supposed to cut the note a little short at the terminal point of the slur — sort of a breathing point or a change of bow direction. And that’s what we have here: the first two notes in the right hand have a slur (meaning the second note is clipped) followed by a full valued quarter note chord on beat four:

Meas. 3

In the second measure the melody has a quarter note-dotted-8th-16th — all as one phrase:

Meas. 2

Note: the slur terminates on the the sixteenth NOT the following half note — meaning the sixteenth is cut short not elided into the half note as it is typically played. This is critical as it affects the whole demeanour of the opening to this song. Pedalling, and the blurring it produces between notes, gives us a languid, somewhat blasé sensation, rather than the lighter, even jaunty impression more representative of Ganymede’s buoyant disposition on such a bright, sunny, Spring morning, if played without pedal and the phrasing is followed as the composer calls out. Moreover, playing this passage without pedal also helps achieve the needed stress on the struck suspension at the beginning of the measure.

In m.3 whilst the left hand continues its staccato (although it is no longer indicated, it is implied), but the right hand is phrased legato (beat four being shortened again because of the slur).

Meas. 3

The fourth measure requires two different forms of articulation in the right hand: the C and A are legato to the B and G, whilst the lower voice (C-D-D♮) is an inverted version of the dotted rhythm from before (including the accent); again with the shortened 16th note, meanwhile, all along the left hand maintains a steady staccato.

Meas. 4

These three forms of articulation are really quite impossible to achieve with any kind of use of the damper pedal.

Not dissimilarly, with mm. 19—28 the right hand, again, has two distinctive yet simultaneous forms of articulation: the two upper voices are grouped under a whole measure phrase and should be played at full value (except for the last note, of course); i. e., legato; whilst the lower voice is phrased in couplets, requiring a contrasting technique in the same hand.

Meas. 19

Although discreet pedalling could aid in the right hand’s “double articulation” the bear bug is still the persistent staccato in the left. In order to maintain that staccato one simply cannot pedal this opening section up to and including the D minor chord. Legato can be more easily achieved with the next four chords with the pedal (although I personally recommend trying to utilise one’s best “organ technique” maintaining the abstinence of pedal), just so long as the last chord at the end of the phrase is properly shortened:

Meas. 28

This too is important since the vocal line does’t end for another measure and a half. Moreover, abiding to the phrasing gives the subsequent G♭ chord at m. 30 (with its own alto voice phrase) greater definition as the dominant to the upcoming passage in C♭:

Meas. 30

This next section (mm. 31—45) also gives us no need to use the damper pedal; although it can be used without corrupting the line if the pianist lifts his foot on the second beat of every measure and clips the 16th note at the end of the phrase:

Meas. 31(pedalling added)

However, eschewing the pedal does facilitate the accent on the second beat in the left hand.

When we arrive at mm. 46—49 where he modulates from G (F) to E, it’s important to note that he doesn’t change key signature until the second beat of m. 46:

Meas. 46

Here again avoiding the damper pedal makes perfect sense. It allows enough space for the accents as called out in the score without overdoing it. Moreover, see how the left and right hands are phrased differently. The left hand can be a little confusing since Schubert has two slurs ending and then being on the same note. My approach would be to play the C -B-C as one whole phrase, and in the right hand the C-D as a separate phrase. Of course it should go without saying that the staccato notes should be pedal less.  Unfortunately, I’ve heard “famous” musicians (not the least of whom was Britten) slosh their way through with the damper down, ignoring the composer’s markings completely.

When we come to mm.56—59, with the piano denoting the “Morning wind,” discreet pedalling can actually come in quite handy in creating the necessary effect. The problem, of course, is the threat of overdoing it.

Meas. 56

Again, observe that the slurs terminate on the 16th notes, not played through, which is a clear indication that as where to lift your foot if one is using  the damper pedal here.

Measures 60 — 67 we return to eschewing the need for the use of the damper pedal:

Meas. 60… Meas. 67

if for no other reason than to avoid blurring the phrase that is marked to be cut short at end of the second beat of the measure.

The next section m.68 up through the third beat of m.78 is pretty straightforward: it is all marked staccato with the tempo un poco accel. There’s a cresc. to f and a decresc. Then, in typical Schubertian fashion, he modulates up a half step to F, and by means of numerous upward modulations arrives at the key bb and with a ff dynamic at m.78. But, look what happens in the second half of the measure:

Meas 77

Not only does the composer change mode, (minor to major) and what is in essence a subito piano on the fourth beat, but also makes a radical change from a loud staccato to a very short, legato TWO NOTE phrase! This subito cannot be fully achieved with the damper pedal. Although using the pedal will achieve a noticeable change in articulation and will make for some change in dynamic. it is monumentally more difficult to achieve the level of dynamic contrast indicated, still obtain the legato called for, AND properly articulate a phrase of just two notes. Don’t get me wrong, it possible to achieve all of this with pedalling; but, why go through all of the extra effort? It is so much easier when you avoid any pedalling whatsoever at this junction.

From this point on up to the final cadence there isn’t any need, or purpose, to use the damper pedal at all. In fact (as I’ve preached though out this article), I seriously recommend against the use of any pedalling at all. If you can’t play m.79 (see above) through m.84 and mm.95 — 99 (repeat) smoothly without using the damper pedal, I suggest taking another look at the Bach: 2 Part Inventions. The only place where the pedal assists in maintaining the legato of a progression is m.108:

Meas. 108(pedalling added)

So, let’s say for argument, that what I’ve written is the “correct” way to play this or any other art song. First, when I say correct, I don’t mean interpretation. The interpretation of a work is purely a subjective matter dependent solely upon the performers’ understanding of period style and his/her emotional response to the music; that includes matters of taste.

So, what do I mean by “correct?” Simply follow the composer’s instructions: primarily the phrasing. And that can be most accurately achieved by developing a true and honest legato avoiding use of the damper pedal as much as possible, essentially limiting its application to those points as indicated by the composer, or in the case of most pre-nineteenth century music very sparingly.

Then why don’t other pianists play songs this way? Well, to be absolutely frank — laziness, pure and simple. For all the talk and pontificating about the equal partnership, as most typified by Schubert, between singer and pianist: that the piano is just as important as the voice and the text, we all know it’s the singer that people come to hear who is the “celebrity” of the pair — and the pianist, contrary to Gerald Moore’s protestations, tends to be thought of as background, filler, a little extra colour so as to have more than just the solo voice. As a result there’s a tendency (most likely not a conscious one) to be less than observant to the piano part. Learning the piano part to these songs in this essentially pedal-less manner is considerably more difficult and time consuming; something for which busy musicians often times simply can’t be bothered. As long as they get the notes and the dynamics right they let the singer do all the rest. All those famous pianists I mentioned in the first part to this essay have or had technique far and away superior to mine; and (this may actually be part of the problem) superb sight-reading capabilities; nevertheless, if I can achieve a decent legato line without pedal then any pianist with better technique than mine certainly should. Yes, it’s laziness.

So, if you’re a pianist who accompanies a lot of singers (Mr. Martineau, Mr. Drake, Mr. Vignoles, Mr. Parsons, etc. (hmmm, where are the women, by the way?), and are bothered with what I’ve had to say, what are ya gonna do ‘bout it?


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