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Pedal Piano by Joseph Broadmann, Vienna 1815

by Allison Nelson
n 1845, Robert Schumann wrote what are undoubtedly board is most often attached to an organ, but can also be
some of the most beautiful and enduring pieces of music used with a clavichord, harpsichord, carillon, or piano. It
for the pedal piano, his Six Etudes in Canon Form, Op. 56; is designed to play the low bass line of a composition,
Four Sketches, Op. 58; and Six Fugues on the Name B-A-C-H, sometimes in octaves. The music for an instrument with
Op. 60 (for organ or pedal piano). Schumann was an pedalboard is written on three staves, the upper two being
enthusiastic student of counterpoint, and his interest in played by the right and left hands and the third by the
the pedal piano was a result of his contrapuntal studies. feet, as in organ playing.
The history of the pedalboard goes back to the fif-
The history and mechanism of the pedal teenth century. The New Grove Dictionary states in a sec-
piano tion on musical instruments that there is a reference to a
The pedal piano consists of a foot-pedal mechanism clavichord with pedals in the 1460 encyclopedic treatise
(pedalboard) combined with a regular keyboard. A pedal- by the scholar Paulus Paulirinus (1413-1471).1 Grove also


composers including Alkan, Gounod, Saint-Saëns, and
Liszt, wrote substantial works for the pedal piano (some
of which were to be performed with orchestra). Alkan was
so enamored with the instrument that, around 1880, he
had Erard deliver a pedal piano with thirty-two pedals. In
addition, he left money in his will to fund a pedal piano
course at the Paris Conservatory. Further, although
Schumann’s friend Mendelssohn did not himself compose
for the pedal piano, as director of the Leipzig
Conservatory he was sufficiently interested in the instru-
Nicholas Macheret’s reproduction of a pedal harpsichord, pos- ment to establish a special pedal piano class.
sibly Bach’s In the twentieth century, several accounts state that the
instrument was virtually dead by the end of the 1800s and
cites the existence of a fifteenth-century drawing of a was no longer being manufactured. Pedal instruments are,
two-and-a-half-octave clavichord with a twelve-note ped- in fact, alive and well. Modern pedal harpsichords were
alboard.2 These instruments were used by organists of the built in America by John Challis (1907-74) and by
day, especially at home, to avoid practicing in an unheated German-born Eric Herz. Today pedal clavichords and
church with an assistant operating the bellows. harpsichords are being built by Robert Morley in
In the early 1700s, J.S. Bach London.
is known to have owned a A huge, impressive pedal
clavichord with two manuals piano is currently available
and a pedalboard. There has ◆ Never strive for so-called bravado execution. Seek the expres- from the Italian firm of
been speculation that he also sion the composer intended. Doing more than that creates a dis- Borgato. 7 The instrument,
owned a pedal harpsichord, torted image. called the Doppio Borgato
and he is believed to have (Double Borgato), consists
written his six trio sonatas ◆ The study of music history, supported by listening to master- of a full-sized concert grand
and the Passacaglia in C pieces from the different eras, will quickly cure you of conceit and piano with a second thirty-
Minor for that instrument.3 vanity. seven-note grand beneath it.
A harpsichord at Sonders- —Robert Schumann The total length is over thir-
hausen, long believed to be teen feet and the combined
the kind which belonged to weight almost one-and-a
J.S. Bach, was reproduced in half tons. The treble notes have
1996 by Nicolas Macheret.4 This reproduction has a four strings per pitch, and the lid of the pedalboard is
pedalboard attachment based on a detailed description split.
written by Jakob Adlung in 1758, and this type of pedal-
board, an independent box that was placed under an exist- Robert Schumann and the pedal piano
ing harpsichord, seems to have been the most popular In Robert Schumann, Herald of a New “Poetic Age,” John
version used in the era. It is unclear whether or not this Daverio says that between January and November of
instrument is a true copy of one that existed in Bach’s 1845, Schumann devoted himself for a third time in his
time. career to a serious study of counterpoint. His study with
The earliest pedal pianos appeared in the eighteenth Heinrich Dorn in 1831-32 consisted largely of writing
century. They utilized three main types of pedalboards: exercises and sketches. His study then led Schumann to
1. Separate hammers that play in octaves on existing draft a history of fugue between 1836 and 1838. (Clara
piano strings; wrote in her diary, “He himself is in the midst of a fugue
2. A separate set of strings and soundboard built into a passion.”) Daverio continues: “Now he wrote, for the first
regular piano; or time, compositions in strict
3. A completely independent unit (usually with twenty- contrapuntal forms intended
nine pedals) placed under a grand piano. not as pedagogical exercises,
On March 12, 1785, Mozart’s father Leopold wrote but as substantial concert
that Wolfgang had “a big pedal-fortepiano made which pieces in their own right.”8
stands under the grand piano, and is three spans longer According to Robert ’s
and surprising heavy.”5 The instrument was made espe- journal, Clara joined him in
cially for him by Anton Walter of Vienna, and, in letters his study of counterpoint on
to his father, Wolfgang mentions using this instrument in Januar y 23, 1845. Schu-
public improvisations. Mozart scholars have suggested mann’s admiration for Bach
that large spans in the Concerto in D Minor and the and his absorption with his
unfinished Fugue in G Minor might indicate that these counterpoint study led him
works were intended for performance on the pedal piano.6 to rent a pedal attachment
In the nineteenth century, in addition to Schumann, for his home piano. The Borgato pedal piano


◆ Look around thoroughly in life, and also in the other arts and
other subjects.

◆ Honor the old, but also turn to the new with a warm heart. Look
to the unknown names without prejudice.
On April 24, 1845, a pedal attachment —Robert Schumann lication, four from Op. 56 and
rented from Otto Kade, a music director three from Op. 58.
and musicologist, arrived at the Schumann In the correspondence between
household. On this date, Clara wrote that Clara and Johannes Brahms, August
they “received a rental pedal to put under the grand piano, something through December, 1895, many words are exchanged concerning
that brought us much pleasure.”9 the final version of the pedal piano studies and sketches.15 Eugenie
While initially acquired for the convenience of having a pedal had sold them to Novello of London, and Clara enlisted Brahms’s
piano available for practicing and testing his own contrapuntal help in preparing them for publication. The exchange of manu-
effects, the instrument’s presence also directed Schumann toward scripts and proofs between Clara and Brahms continued until the
writing pieces specifically for the pedal piano. Robert wrote to his end of the year, and the works finally appeared in print in 1896.
publisher C.F. Whistling that the pedal piano might “with time Clara was Robert’s best advertisement for his compositions. She
bring a new momentum to piano music….Absolutely wonderful introduced his works and performed them all over Europe, Russia,
effects can be brought about with it.”10 He paid rent on the pedal- and England, and she frequently performed the studies for pedal
board for May, June, and July of 1845. During the following piano. They were met with acclaim and were arranged and pub-
months he received payment from Whistling for Opp. 56 and 60 as lished in several editions, even during her lifetime.
well as payment from another publish-
er, Kistner, for Op. 58: the pedalboard
had immediately influenced Robert’s Clara’s original edition of the A-flat study
The Six Etudes in Canon Form, Op.
56, are not simply finger exercises like
Hanon’s or Czerny’s. Instead, they are,
like the Chopin etudes, works of art
that make wonderful music while
working the muscles. The Four
Sketches, Op. 58, are four little pieces
written expressly for the joy of playing
the instrument. Although not specifi-
cally contrapuntal, they contain
moments of imitation. According to
Eric Jensen, Schumann’s Six Fugues on
B-A-C-H, Op. 60, are impressive
examples of the “most sustained, chro-
matic music he had yet composed.”11
“The best fugue” said Schumann, “is
always that which the public takes for
a Strauss waltz.” 12 One can imagine Clara’s manuscript of her solo version
the composer applied this philosophy
to his Op. 56 canons: “With Op. 56,”
says Jensen, “the listener is so captivat-
ed by the melodic charm that the
canonic inventiveness becomes almost

Clara Schumann and the

pedal piano pieces
Clara Schumann transcribed many of
her husband’s important works. Among
her piano transcriptions were her four-
hand arrangement of the piano quintet,
thirty songs transcribed for piano solo,
and the pieces for pedal piano. Years
later, in her diary entry for January 11,
1895, Clara wrote: “Today I began to
arrange some of Robert’s pedal-pieces
in the way I have always played them.”14
At the urging of her daughter Eugenie,
she selected seven of the pieces for pub-


Novello’s 1896 printed copy of Clara’s solo arrangement

was April 11, 1916, when Percy Grainger performed

the third study. The first Carnegie Hall complete
performance of the six studies was December 8,
1939, with Vitya Vronsky and Victor Babin playing
Debussy’s two-piano arrangement. More recent per-
formances include pianists Emanuel Ax and Yefim
Bronfman playing the same arrangement of Op. 56
at the University of California, Berkeley (March 26,
2005), and a Peter Sykes organ recital of all three
opus numbers at Boston University School of Music
(April 3, 2006).
For pianists interested in ensemble playing, the
Debussy arrangement of Op. 56 for two pianos is
available from Durand and International, and a
Arrangements and performances four-hand arrangement by Georges Bizet can be found in a few
The B-minor study seems to have been particularly popular. A libraries. A new edition of the Bizet arrangement is available from
solo arrangement of the piece was published by Louis Meyer of Alfred Music Publishing. The author’s edition of the complete
Philadelphia in 1866, and a different solo version by Rafael Joseffy Clara Schumann solo arrangements of the Opp. 56 and 58 is pub-
was published by Schirmer in 1887. Further, a 1979 Wilfried lished by Musica Obscura. 
Kassebaum edition of a new arrangement for solo piano is current-
ly available. This arrangement contains both opuses. Australian-born Allison Nelson is a
Today the Opp. 56, 58, and 60 are more likely to be performed graduate of the Curtis Institute of
on the organ than on the pedal piano. New editions of the pieces Music, where she studied for five years
are coming out with registration suggestions for organ perfor- with Rudolf Serkin and Mieczyslaw
mance. All three opus numbers are recorded by Rudolf Innig on Horszowski. While at Curtis she mar-
Schumann: Complete Organ Works, even though only Op. 60 was ried fellow student Harry Neal. They
originally designated for that instrument.16 became the well-known two-piano
More significantly, Jörg Demus has recorded a boxed set of team of Nelson and Neal. Allison
Schumann’s complete piano works and has included the Op. 56 (in Nelson is Professor Emerita at the
volume 11 of the set) and Op. 58 (in volume 6).17 Although Demus University of Tennessee at Martin
performs the works in their original form, the instrument used is where she was Artist-in-Residence and
not identified on the CD. This is unfortunate, since it is well Distinguished Service Professor. Since
known that Demus collects antique instruments. It is unclear her retirement from performing and
whether he uses an instrument with pedals or has a second pianist teaching, she is in demand for master
play the pedal line (in Clara’s edition of Schumann’s complete classes, judging auditions, and coaching while she continues her music
piano works, she notes that these pieces can be performed by two research and publications. Dr. Nelson and Maurice Hinson edited the
players). Bizet arrangement of the Schumann Six Etudes in Canon Form, Op.
Perhaps the most beautiful of the seven pieces is the Op. 56, No. 56, published by Alfred in 2009.
4, in A-flat major. It is truly remarkable that Schumann could
write such an exquisite melodic line while staying within the
restrictions of canonic construction. On her recording Clara
Schumann and her Family,18 pianist Ira Maria Witoschynskyj chose
the Clara Schumann arrangement of the A-flat major to illustrate
the intimate symbiotic relationship between Clara and Robert.
The first Carnegie Hall performance of any of the Op. 56 pieces

1 11
Edwin M. Ripin, “Pedal Clavichord,” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Eric Frederick Jensen, Schumann (Oxford University Press, 2001), 284.
ed. Stanley Sadie (Macmillan Publishers, paperback 1995), 14:327. Jensen, 287.
2 13
Ibid. Ibid.
3 14
Ripin, “Pedal Harpsichord,” New Grove , 14:327. Nancy B. Reich, Clara Schumann: The Artist and the Woman, Revised ed. (Cornell
Yves Rechsteiner, “Pedal Harpsichord,” Organ Loft, trans. William Vine: www.harpsi- University Press, 2001), 331.
15 (accessed 9 March, 2010). Bethold Litzmann, ed. Letters of Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms, 1853-1896
Marcia Davenport, Mozart. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1960), 228. (London: Edward Arnold & Co., 1927), II:279-82.
6 16
Ripin, “Pedal Pianoforte,” New Grove, 14:328. Robert Schumann, Complete Organ Works (Rudolf Innig), Dabringhaus und Grimm,
7 (accessed 9 March, 2010). MDG 317 0619-2.
8 17
John Daverio, Robert Schumann, Herald of a “New Poetic Age” (Oxford University Press, Robert Schumann: The Complete Piano Works ( Jörg Demus), Nuova Era,
1997), 306. vol. 6 CD7316 and vol. 11 CD7321.
9 18
Robert Schumann, Tagebücher, ed. Gerd Nauhaus. Band III Haushaltbücher, Clara Schumann and Her Family (Ira Maria Witoschynskyj), Dabringhaus und Grimm,
Teil I, 1837-1847 (Stroemfeld/Roter Stern), 750. MDG 6040729-2.
Schumann, 387.


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