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In the excerpt below from "Theme from Symphony No.6, 1st Movement" by Tchaikovsky, the chord in red in the bass is a dotted half note. But the sustain pedal prolongs the sound to a whole note. enter image description here

Why not simply write it as a whole note chord?

3 Answers 3

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First, just know that the dotted half note does not correspond to any occurrence of the theme in the original orchestral score. Nevertheless, we'll treat it as "correct", since that's what the arranger chose. Speculating: perhaps the arranger used that duration rather than a whole note in order to give time to move to the following chord.

However, the "real" issue is the pedal mark itself. One should not hold the pedal down through the entire passage, because the right-hand's scale will sound muddy. Instead, the pedal, if used at all, should be changed, say, once per beat to maintain clarity. In that case, a true quarter rest can be produced in the left hand.

In addition, if playing on a piano or with a graduated keyboard pedal, the pedal should be kept shallow (half pedal) rather than pressed all the way down. This will keep the sound more clear and facilitate quick, smooth pedal changes.

Pedal is used according to the taste of the performer, so it's okay not to be wholly literal to the given markings.

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    "Conceptually, the dotted half note is the correct musical duration": why? This unexplained, unsupported assertion is central to the issue at hand. The answer would be improved significantly by adding an explanation.
    – phoog
    Jan 12 at 8:31
  • @phoog Fair question. I gave the arranger too much credit and have updated the answer to reflect that that note duration was the arranger's choice and does not correspond to anything in the original score.
    – Aaron
    Jan 13 at 3:54
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This is someone's very simple (and not very inspired) piano reduction, and the pedal marking is not very good either. So the best way to improve here is to throw it away and find a better arrangement (probably a bit harder). As you say, the pedal as shown would blur the end of bar 4, so it is better to take the pedal off earlier. (My guess is that your musicality is already better than that of the arranger, so it is not worth spending much time on.)

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The l.h. plays effectively 'broken chords' - bass note and 'chord' after it. Pedalled holding all those same noes throughout the bar is fine, and that's what the writer intended - hence the pedal marks. Just a lazy pedal mark on the 4th bar shown here.

The triad in the l.h. will be held anyway, and released on beat 4 so there's no need really for a pedal mark there. Unless - the writer actually wants the r.h. notes to blur into each other, as is actually shown by that pedal mark.

In reality, though, what happens there is going to be to the discretion of the player. Try both ways, and decide which is more appropriate for the piece concerned.

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