In the massive edition of Bach's solo piano works by Ferruccio Busoni with the complete name of Busoni-Ausgabe (Klavierwerke) in 25 volumes (Joh. Seb. Bach. Klavierwerke unter Mitwirkung von Egon Petri und Bruno Mugellini. Herausgegeben von Ferruccio Busoni), there are lots of pedal indications, although some of them seem really odd.

Partita No.4 by Bach, Busoni Edition

I'd like to know

  1. how accurate are they? [if a professional artist wants to pedal Bach's music, what percentage of his pedaling falls exactly at the same places and in the same manner, according to the Busoni edition suggested]

  2. does anybody (professional artist) render all of them in performances? If so, can you suggest which specific recordings demonstrate this.

  • 7
    If by "accurate" you mean "Bach wrote them" then they are not accurate; because Bach did not write any. In fact, Bach did not even write many of the notes in your excerpt.
    – nonpop
    Commented Nov 9, 2013 at 18:50
  • Certainly not! I'm asking about modern piano techniques (that accepts the usage of piano pedals) as a part of virtuoso piano playing.
    – Libera Me
    Commented Nov 10, 2013 at 6:56
  • 3
    Right now the only other meaning of "accurate" I can think of is how accurately it describes where and how Busoni thought it would be good to use pedal. It this sense it seems to be pretty accurate: the position of pedal change is very clearly notated, and he even describes how to change (halb) in the second measure. Of course, a professional artist will adjust the pedaling to suit the instrument, the acoustics, and their interpretation.
    – nonpop
    Commented Nov 10, 2013 at 9:42
  • 1
    OK, I try to give an example. From the above image [This is only for the sake of a simple example and my question is general, not focusing on this excerpt only], you can see in the first system there are two contrasting pedal marks, the main/first suggestion [highlighted with pink] is familiar pattern for changing with harmonies and sounds best for romantic music. In contrary, the second one is used in a way that for reinforcement the sound, like addressing a certain kind of (old) piano. In the ossia system, the indication is even worse, a whole bar under one pedal, and then half pedal!
    – Libera Me
    Commented Nov 10, 2013 at 10:58
  • 1
    As English is not my first language I checked Merriam-Webster for a definition of "accurate". It has three, and from your example, especially since you say things like "sounds best for..." and "even worse", I take it that you mean the definition which says "conforming exactly to truth or to a standard". If this is the case, all I can really say is that there is no standard. Sure, changing with harmonies is a common, but by no means the only, way. It really depends on the situation. Here, for example, the full-measure pedal in the second system works well, provided you're careful with dynamics.
    – nonpop
    Commented Nov 10, 2013 at 11:34

3 Answers 3


Answering to this:

if a professional artist wants to pedal Bach's music, how percentages of his pedaling falls exactly at the same places and in the same manner, according to the Busoni edition suggested

Nowadays pianists tend to use very little pedal when playing Bach (instead of Busoni). The pedal is usually not used for effect or to get a full sound. It is used more to just make the sound more "alive", the same way a string player would use just a bit of vibrato (or, perhaps more suitably in baroque music, a "swell" for longer notes) so that the sound is not so flat. Try listening to some performances on YouTube; in many cases it is difficult to tell whether pedal is used at all for most of the piece.

So, from this point of view, the pedaling of the lower system is certainly out of question. The alternative pedaling on the first system is probably closest to a modern Bach-pedaling. However, even that is a bit much. First of all, I would say most pianists would change the pedal for the 1/16th notes, too. Secondly, at least I would in most cases only use the pedal at the end of a note, because using it for the whole note easily makes the sound thick (this depends on where and with what you play). With the end of a note I mean the end of the sounding note. For example, I would probably not let the dotted 1/8 notes sound for their whole duration. Thirdly, I would use half-pedal in most cases (this is partly because the pedals are so short that it becomes a lot of work to use a full pedal every time).

In short, modern Bach-pedalling usually consists of lots and lots of little pedals (or no pedal at all, especially for fast pieces). Where you put these depend on many things. Usually you don't want a thick sound, you don't want to muddy the ornaments, you don't want to connect too many notes, etc. etc. Yet still you don't want a dead sound.

So, a very short answer to the question is: the pedaling Busoni suggests for his arrangement is not at all what pianists would do when playing the original piece.


If you want to perform Bach, I do not believe that you should be concerned with any editor's pedal markings whatsoever. Do not think that the score markings of a famous editor are any more important than your own ideas about how the piece should be performed, particularly with regard to a composer like Bach. Bach wrote for the harpsichord and organ, and never wrote in things like dynamic markings, pedal markings, or any interpretive markings like "largamento pomposo" or "non troppo legato". So play the pieces the way that make sense to you and you alone. Don't slavishly copy the interpretive markings of someone who lived long after Bach died. Just use those markings as a starting point and figure out your own interpretation.

  • That is true, but not what I'm asking for. As a rule of thumb one should find out what he/she think is the best. And I agree that, those expression text like “largamente pomposo” are something the music itself suggests, and exist even non-verbally. But, here I'm asking about the Bach - Busoni edition; a massive edition with thousands of pages, not the Bach's manuscript. I'd like to know the professional opinions [maybe citation from a book or review] about the genuinity of those (pedal) markings.
    – Libera Me
    Commented Nov 18, 2013 at 6:49

I would not take the Bach-Busoni edition as an authority. Busoni actually rewrote music because he felt he could do a better job. Your best bet is to obtain a good Urtext edition such as one by Henle which is devoid of all the extra markings.

Using pedal in the Baroque music is not the same as it is in the Classical or Romantic period. You use it to enhance the music, make it come alive, rather than to blur and soften.

Playing the Baroque period on the piano requires both staccato as well as legato. The harpsichord, remember was a plucked-string instrument, while a piano is a struck string like the clavichord, but only 1000% louder!

Keep in mind that we don't want to emulate the harpsichord, but what we want is the clarity. Using dynamics is okay on the piano, and Bach would have done the same if he played the music on the clavichord, which like the piano is quite capable of dynamics. Terracing dynamics is somewhat a debated subject.

I recently heard a rather heated discussion between two pianists on this. One said we should play terraced dynamics, while the other being a more historically trained performer, said this wasn't true to the music and is something that came about in the 1940 and 1950ss with the rediscovery of Baroque music and so-called historical practice. Interesting... My more recent teacher had me play with long dynamic lines and not the terracing while an earlier teacher had everything in big sudden, loud, soft, steps. Go figure...

The thing is keep in mind that you want to do things in moderation. Too much pedal and you have a blur, just like too much dynamics which will change the character of the music.

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