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#617699 - 08/28/08 10:17 AM Sostenuto pedal  
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Emmery Offline
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Just want to pick some peoples brains here so all comments are welcome. Does anyone know at what point in the pianos history the sustenuto pedal came into use musically or in a manufacturing sense? What are the oldest pianos you have seen them on? I am talking about the true sustenuto on the grands and some rare uprights, not the pseudo sustenuto that lifts all the dampers in the bass.


Piano Technician
George Brown College /85
Niagara Region
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#617700 - 08/28/08 10:27 AM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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James Senior Offline
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England
Hi Emmery,
to my knowlege they came in sometime towards the end of Liszt's life (1811-1886). I only know this because he re-edited many of his manuscripts to include its use. Now this information would have been of more use had Liszt only lived as long as say Chopin...
Maybe this can provide a starting point?!

#617701 - 08/28/08 11:35 AM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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Emmery Offline
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Niagara Region, On. Canada
Yes this is a good start. This would seem to suggest that it originated from one of the European manufacturers of the time. It would be nice to know if the motivation for it was at the request of a certain musician or just an enterprising piano builder introducing a new "gimmick". I say this in pun because there is legitimate use for it, but really not too much.


Piano Technician
George Brown College /85
Niagara Region
#617702 - 08/28/08 12:49 PM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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tds Offline
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The sostenuto pedal was invented in 1844 by Jean Louis Boisselot and improved by the Steinway firm in 1874.

http://www.ukpianos.co.uk/piano-history.html


Stay tuned.

Tom Seay, Recovering Piano Technician
Bastrop, Texas
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#617703 - 08/29/08 01:14 PM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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James Senior Offline
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England
Well there's your answer!
I doubt that it would have been a gimmick, as composers would have wanted something to give them the equivalent of Organ pedals. Of course you can go further and actually have pedals - like the Borgato piano...
It was a truly experimental time. From what I read, Liszt also experimented with pianos which had octave couplers and even a tremolo mechanism. I wonder what the time and cost of having those instruments regulated would be!

#617704 - 08/29/08 01:19 PM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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BDB Offline
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Schumann wrote for pedal piano before the sostenuto pedal was invented.


Semipro Tech
#617705 - 09/02/08 03:15 PM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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SantaFe_Player Offline
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As a pianist, not a tech, here's a question about the sostenuto pedal. My understanding is that it is supposed to allow sustain on all the bass notes (from about middle D and below). Right? When my C3 arrived and the lyre bolts finally came a couple of weeks later, the guys who finally put the pedals on seemed completely unconcerned, uninterested and uncomprehending when I complained that the sostenuto seems to do nothing.

Am I correct that there is something wrong? My tech is coming out on the 11th to give the piano its needed tuning, since it has been sitting in my house about 5 weeks now. Will he be able to make this pedal function? To be honest it hasn't affected me yet, as I don't need it for much and not for any of the literature I'm currently working on, but it bothers me that it won't work.


SantaFe_Player
Heels down, and tickle the bit.
#617706 - 09/02/08 03:46 PM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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BDB Offline
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No, the sostenuto pedal, if the piano has one, holds the dampers on the notes that are already depressed. If none of the notes are depressed, the pedal does nothing.

Sometimes the middle pedal is a bass sustain pedal. That raises the dampers on the bass notes, but not the rest of the piano.

There are a variety of functions for the middle pedal. Those two are the usually possibilities on grand pianos.


Semipro Tech
#617707 - 09/02/08 04:19 PM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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SantaFe_Player Offline
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BDB - Do you know offhand which it should be for a C3? (vintage 1993) I believe I tried every permutation and combination of pressing notes and pressing the pedal, and it seemed to do nothing.


SantaFe_Player
Heels down, and tickle the bit.
#617708 - 09/02/08 04:58 PM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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BDB Offline
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Provided it is a Yamaha, it should be a sostenuto pedal. It could be out of adjustment. That happens.

If it is working properly, you should be able to press and hold a note, then press the pedal, and then release the note, and the damper will still be up.


Semipro Tech
#617709 - 09/02/08 07:27 PM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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Peter Sumner- Piano Technician Offline
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San Francisco
Please note that you may need to press the pedal all the way down to engage the mechanism....after FIRST holding down a note or notes (as already explained)....


Peter Sumner
Concert Piano Technician


#617710 - 09/02/08 08:26 PM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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tds Offline
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Try this -
1. depress and hold the sustain pedal
2. depress and hold the sostenuto pedal
3. release the sustain pedal only

If the sostenuto is working properly, all the dampers will be held up. If not, then it is probably out of adjustment.


Stay tuned.

Tom Seay, Recovering Piano Technician
Bastrop, Texas
#617711 - 09/02/08 10:28 PM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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SantaFe_Player Offline
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New Mexico
So the sostenuto only works if I have first depressed the sustain pedal? I've never encountered this before.

On my spinet it works just fine, without having to also press the sustain pedal, so I am disappointed that these guys couldn't connect it properly on a C3, and/or couldn't recognize that it was not functioning. They just shrugged, muttered something in Spanish and looked annoyed that I was concerned.

And yes, BDB. A C3 is a Yamaha.


SantaFe_Player
Heels down, and tickle the bit.
#617712 - 09/03/08 12:04 AM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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Gadzar Offline
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Mexico City
I guess your piano is OK. You have a full sostenuto system.

It sustains notes that are already down when you depress the pedal. The notes played after the pedal was depressed are not sustained, even if the pedal is still held down.

In other words: when you depress the sostenuto pedal, all the dampers that are up remain up until you release the pedal. All the dampers that were down are unaffected by this pedal.

So if you depress the sustain pedal, all dampers will come up. If then you depress the sostenuto pedal all the dampers remain up. If you release the sustain pedal, they remain up. They only come down when you release the sostenuto pedal. This is only a test to see if the sostenuto system is working properly. It is not necessary to use the sustain pedal in conjonction with the sostenuto pedal.

For this system to work you have to first play the notes and hold down the keys while you depress the sostenuto pedal. Once the pedal is engaged you can release the keys and the corresponding notes will be sustained by the pedal. The notes played after the pedal was depressed are not sustained by this pedal.

This sostenuto system allows you to sustain only certain notes, the notes that you hold down when depressing the pedal, while the rest of the notes are not sustained.

On your spinet you have another system, not a sostenuto, but a bass sustain. This pedal sustains all the bass notes and you can not select which specific notes you want to sustain as with the sostenuto system.


Rafael Melo
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rafaelmelo@afinacionpianos.com.mx

Serving Mexico City and suburbs.

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#617713 - 09/03/08 12:14 AM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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BDB Offline
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Quote
So the sostenuto only works if I have first depressed the sustain pedal?
No. In fact, I had one piano where it would work only if the individual keys were depressed, not the damper pedal. That is actually better, musically, but hard to pull off mechanically.


Semipro Tech
#617714 - 09/03/08 02:03 AM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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Sam Casey Offline
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SW Missouri
The sustendo pedal can be easily detected for the lack of wear on the brass, it's dull shine and in most cases of a piano 5 years and up, a clunk and squeak from lack of use. Which is also why there are many expensive grands (some Bechsteins) without one.

It should be noted that the middle pedal function varies into general categories. Many vertical pianos have the bass sustain as detailed above. Many also have the middle pedal connected to the soft pedal and some have the pedal doing nothing at all. On many Asian pianos and old uprights the middle was the "practice pedal" where engaged would drop a line of heavy felt between hammer and string to muffle the sound in case Grandma objects to hours of Schmidt and Hanon scales. Some were "honky tonk" or "rinky tink" bars which dropped indivdual felt strips with metal tines at the end which would strike the strings ahead of the hammer. Some grands new and old, usually smaller and cheaper, have the bass sustain function like verticals. I'm sure there are some functions I'm missing.

#617715 - 09/04/08 01:06 PM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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darryl1492 Offline
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Houston, TX
As a music teacher/piano tuner, I have been surprised, over the years, how many musicians are misinformed about the sostenuto pedal. Even in this blog-notice SantaFe_Player. A great explanation is given here by Gadzar. He is totally right. Most people don't understand the sostenuto pedal because they can't play the music which requires that pedal.


Darryl Roberts
#617716 - 09/06/08 08:32 AM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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Marty in Minnesota Offline

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Marty in Minnesota  Offline

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Minnesota
One learns so much when visiting this forum.

As a pianist, if playing a vertical, I tend to not even try the una corda or sostenuto as you never know what they will do. The only thing you can trust is the damper pedal.

It is interesting to learn, that on some grands, the sostenuto functions as a "bass damper" hold. I haven't run into that on a grand, thank god, as I expect it to be an individual sostenuto. I think of the right pedal, the damper, as full sustain.

The test, posed by Tom, caused me to check it out on my S&S-M. Sure enough, that's exactly what it did. I called up a friend with a C3. Bingo! - same result.

I had never thought of the test in reverse. A pianist will use the sostenuto to hold given notes and then the sustain (damper) pedal will be used after the sostenuto is engaged. I can't think of a performance possibility, it would defeat the use of sostenuto, but it is a great test of the pedal mechanism.

Darryl - It gets even more fun, when playing something like Debussy "Estampes" and you need all three pedals and only have two feet!


Marty in Minnesota
#617717 - 09/06/08 09:22 AM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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Dave Stahl Offline
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Quote
Originally posted by SantaFe_Player:
So the sostenuto only works if I have first depressed the sustain pedal? I've never encountered this before.

On my spinet it works just fine, without having to also press the sustain pedal, so I am disappointed that these guys couldn't connect it properly on a C3, and/or couldn't recognize that it was not functioning. They just shrugged, muttered something in Spanish and looked annoyed that I was concerned.
As has been said, sostenuto pedals sometimes require adjustment. It's seldom just a disconnected rod that causes problems.

I'm sure some of you other techs have seen lower end consoles and spinets that have a middle pedal that does absolutely nothing. It's not connected to anything at either end, just held in place by a spring, it just fills an empty space in the cabinet. Or, as Victor Borge used to say, it separates the left one from the right one.


Promote Harmony in the Universe...Tune your piano!

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#617718 - 09/06/08 11:03 AM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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Jim Frazee Offline
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Marty,

There are many instances where sostenuto is used first and then the damper pedal. The one I use most in teaching is the use of the sostenuto pedal in the second section of Clair de Lune, where the first bass tones in each measure are held by the sostenuto while the remaining treble notes are made legato by use of damper pedal.


PianoPerfection
Teacher, performer, technician
Westchester County, NY
#617719 - 09/06/08 12:19 PM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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Marty in Minnesota Offline

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Minnesota
Jim,

That I understand completely and it is the standard technique.

I was referring to the "test" when the damper is depressed prior to the sostenuto. Then the damper is released. The sostenuto holds all of the dampers up.

I see no application when playing, but, it is a great, and very simple, way to check the sostenuto mechanism on a grand.


Marty in Minnesota
#617720 - 09/06/08 07:16 PM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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BDB Offline
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You do not want to apply the sostenuto pedal when the damper pedal is depressed. If you do, the dampers will be held by the sostenuto bar, and when you release the pedal, they will all fall hard with a thump. The damper pedal lowers the dampers as it is released. The sostenuto drops them precipitously.

There is another problems that might happen using the sostenuto and the damper together that can cause thumps. It hinges on how the mechanism is made. It can be a problem in early Steinway actions, and late Aeolian American actions, and possibly others. On them, you do not want to apply the sostenuto pedal, then the damper pedal, then release the sostenuto before releasing the damper pedal. If you are planning to do this, try it before you play in performance.


Semipro Tech
#617721 - 09/06/08 08:15 PM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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Marty in Minnesota Offline

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Minnesota
BDB,

What Tom Seay, RPT, suggested was a test of the sostenuto mechanism on a grand. It was not a performance technique. It was intended as a guide for a new piano owner to understand if the pedal was functioning normally.

I have thought about your suggestion concerning the use of the sostenuto and damper, simultaneously, on certain instruments. It would be contrary to proper pedal technique.

If a given note(s) is being sustained by the sostenuto, and other notes are being phrased by using the damper, the sostenuto should be able to be released at the choice of the pianist. If the damper pedal is down, the individual sostenuto would still sound the note(s) until the release of the damper.

I teach my students that the sostenuto pedal is an on-off switch. You do not have the same control of lowering the damper slowly as you do with the damper pedal. But-But-But, if the damper is down, and the sostenuto is released, and then the damper pedal is released, it will act in correspondence with all the other dampers and should not "thunk" down.

If the piano doesn't function in this manner, then it is time to call a technician.

Your mention of "precipitously" falling dampers brings up a question that I have wondered about for years. I will start a different thread.


Marty in Minnesota
#617722 - 09/06/08 08:59 PM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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BDB Offline
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Quote
But-But-But, if the damper is down, and the sostenuto is released, and then the damper pedal is released, it will act in correspondence with all the other dampers and should not "thunk" down.

If the piano doesn't function in this manner, then it is time to call a technician.
That is the way it is most of the time, but in some pianos, including the ones I mentioned, the sostenuto bar is held up by the tongues on the rest of the damper levers when the damper pedal is raised. Let go of the sostenuto pedal, and the bar clunks past the tongues. Even without the damper pedal, you will feel it in all the unheld notes when the sostenuto pedal is released.

Unfortunately, the only way to avoid this, besides not doing it, is to replace the damper levers. It is not a simple service issue.


Semipro Tech
#617723 - 09/06/08 09:29 PM Re: Sostenuto pedal  
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Marty in Minnesota Offline

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Minnesota
BDB,

I'm trying to wrap my brain around this.

So, on those pianos, even if the damper pedal is depressed, and if the sostenuto is released, the dampers of the sostenuto'd notes will fall?

Or, is it when the damper pedal is released that they will fall and not be in the control of the damper pedal? That is, preceeding all of the other dampers within the control of the foot on the damper pedal?

(Please remember that I am a pianist and not a tech.)


Marty in Minnesota

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