I've been working on Ravel's Jeux d'Eau, and the intended use of the soft pedal in the piece is not always clear to me. There are several spots where he indicates to use the soft pedal, but there isn't always a clear distinction as to where to release it.

For reference, here is the score I am working from.

On page 20 (as marked on the page), the 2nd from last measure indicates to use una corde (side note: does this differ from the 2 Ped marking?), and the following measure is marked 3 cordes. The two measures are similar, so the directive to play the first soft and the second louder is obvious here.

Compare that to the first measure of the piece which is marked 2 Ped, and no other pedal marking is found until the second page of the piece. Does this indicate to apply the soft pedal until where marked on the second page, does 2 Ped only apply to the current measure, or was Ravel simply leaving this up for interpretation?

Looking at page 21 (as marked), the 5th measure has a Ped marking on only the first two beats, but as the beats that follow repeat the same pattern, it's apparent that the intention is to apply the same pedaling to them. This leaves me wondering if there is some implicit directive that I am missing about when to release the soft pedal.

Also on page 21, the last measure indicates 3 cordes. We see this marking again in the 4th measure of page 25, yet there is no indication between the two to use the soft pedal. Could this be an oversight, or have I missed something that indicates otherwise?

2 Answers 2


Okay, I think firstly you are not interpreting the 2Ped markings correctly. According to several sources (for instance here on music.SE and here elsewhere on the web) Debussy and Ravel use 2Ped to ask the performer to use both the soft pedal and damper pedals.

However, this misunderstanding is understandable; this article discusses editorial differences between different versions of Jeux d'Eau (specifically one edited by Roger Nichols, in this case), with particular reference to the interpretation of 2ped markings. It tells us,

One puzzling detail in Jeux d'eau: Nichols takes Ravel's "2 Ped." to mean, not "two pedals" (i.e., both damper and soft pedals), but "soft pedal," and he thus replaces it with "1 Corde," which Ravel used for that purpose elsewhere in the same work.

Now, I don't think the article relates to your score of the piece, but it does highlight the possibility of misinterpretation.

Looking at the score you link to, let me suggest answers for your more specific questions.

Indeed, there is no other marking after the first bar, until the Ped marking in bar 15, suggesting that, yes, both pedals are used until this point. (Whether using the soft pedal in the previous double-forte bar is appropriate, I'm not sure; you'd have to ask a pianist - I'm not a pianist!)

On page 21, I agree that the Ped markings here are to be repeated; these would seem to refer to the damper pedal (as usual) and would be appropriate looking at the way the harmony moves. Implicitly, I would say you should still have the soft pedal down, as the marking 3 cordes is given at the end of the page.

Finally, you are absolutely right that there is no una corde or 2Ped marking between the two 3 cordes markings you mention. However, if there is supposed to be a return to una corde, or indeed 2Ped, it would seem sensible that this takes place at the 1er Mouvt marking. Although, this literally only means a return to the first tempo, it seems fair to also infer a return to the opening mood, and so the same pedal marking (although, yes, if so it should really be marked, and the music is not the same as the opening…)

Hopefully this answer gets you pointed in the right direction with regard to the pedalling in this piece; I'm sure some pianists will also respond to give you more detail, particularly about the bar-to-bar subtleties of using piano pedals.

  • 2
    Pianist or not, this is a fantastic, helpful and informative answer.
    – yohohoho
    Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 19:59

On a grand piano, you can play ff with the soft pedal down if you want. You get a different tone color by moving the hammers sideways so a different part of the hammer strikes the string, but the volume of sound doesn't change much if your fingers use the same amount of force with una corda and tre corde.

But that doesn't work on an upright piano, where the mechanism reduces the volume (by moving the hammers closer to the strings) but doesn't change the tone color.

And what you get on a digital piano depends very much on the particular model you are playing.

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