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The nub of the question is: why are there pedalling discrepancies that most performers I listen to follow identically, but are almost universally not listed in any variations of scores and how could I come to the same conclusions myself when just looking at a score like this? I feel the sheet music isn't telling the whole story and I don't know what I'm missing...

Here's a little more detail. I definitely understand pedalling is fairly subjective, but I don't think I've ever seen it performed so consistently differently from what is written. Instances:

  1. All the scores at imslp for the first page show that pedalling stops half way through through the phrase, but when watching performances they all continue a "pedal-release" for distinct chords in the left hand for the entire duration of the fast right hand scales. (See image example) pedal 1

  2. I think I heard most performers pedal for the duration of these two parts as well, but pedalling is not indicated on the sheet music at all. (See image example) pedal 2 pedal 3

Performers examples:

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Just because modern professional performers play something a certain way doesn't mean you should feel compelled to come to similar conclusions about the execution.

Your own example is illustrative of this point. Chopin used to lambast people who would substitute damper pedal for a true finger-legato. That's exactly what Kissin and Wright are doing; they're playing the etude too SLOW (check with the metronome if you don't believe me) and using damper pedal to maintain the big slurs instead of the indicated finger-legato, which would suffice at indicated speed.

My own interpretation of that passage on a modern piano would use sostenuto pedal for the single bass note alone and finger-legato in both hands. That would give maximum clarity to the dotted rhythm in the left hand.

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ONE: Pedaling generally has less to do with sustaining pitches or creating legato and more to do with tone color. A note played with pedal has a warmer, richer sound than one played without.

TWO: @ttw makes a critical point that Chopin's piano had less power that a modern piano. It did not produce as loud a sound, and the sound decayed more quickly. Also, the key depth, and even the length and width of the keys, were less on Chopin's piano than the modern instrument. This, too, has an impact on both the power, the tone, and the "legato-ness".

The pedal markings in the first sample posted in the question, I interpret in this way:

  • m. 5: the first indication, below the low A, is Chopin letting us know he wants that low pitch sustained until the harmony change on beat four.1 This is best accomplished by half-pedaling through the next two beats.
  • m. 6: there is no pedal indicated, because there's no particular pitch that Chopin needs to indicate as sustaining.
  • m. 7: this measure is essentially a repeat of the first, and again Chopin want the performer to allow the low A to continue as long as manageable until the harmonic shift.

However, none of this precludes pedaling, or not, wherever the performer feels the need. This Etude begs to be played all out, which on a modern piano means reinforcing the tone as much as possible with the pedal. But the right hand (or left hand, as in the second example in the question) will get muddy very quickly if the pedal is held down, so at minimum, pedaling every beat is a necessity. The technique to apply is sometimes called "flutter" pedaling.

On the other hand, the opening measures can be very effective with no pedal, creating a "dry" sound before the onslaught.


“The more I play, the more I am convinced the pedal is the soul of the pianoforte!”

---Arthur Rubinstein


1 This begs the question of why Chopin didn't write a dotted half-note. I believe that, first, the low A is still part of the left hand "melody", not a separate voice. Second, Chopin doesn't want the sound literally held for three beats. He's allowing for natural decay, he just wants to make clear that the sound has to be gone by beat 4.

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I think the best answer is "Pedalling is subjective" as mentioned in the OP. In this case, there are at least three reasons I can think of that performers apply pedal differently from the written music. There is a difference in modern pianos and those available to Chopin and the performers try to make their performance sound musical. Also, the printed version may not be Chopin's actual writing; editors do make changes and suggestions, even in pedalling. The locale of the performance may be different; this can affect tempo, dynamics, and pedalling for most pieces (even true for a country dance band as I have found out from experience.)

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