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In the following passage from Chopin's second piano sonata, mvt.I, m.78,Chopin sonata 2

If I insist holding down the half notes, the fingering is awkward, if still possible. But since the pedal is clearly intended, and I do use it, why can I not release the whole notes just after playing them? The dampers will not silence them due to presence of the pedal.

Such instances are abundant within this piece, and this is certainly not the first time I face the dilemma. If I hold these key (gb4, db5, ab4, c5 in my case) down all the way as indicated, I feel I am more faithful to the original intention of the composer. But if I release them, I play better and more comfortably. And after all, what is the significance of holding these sustained notes (the half notes mentioned above)?

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The half notes should sound their duration and form a line of their own. The question is how to achieve this. If you use the dampener pedal, all no longer struck notes will get finished in the same manner.

Now the shorter figures in the bass have their own character and are somewhat independent with their overlap and individual capacity of being cut off by unpedaling. The other treble notes form melody lines where each sustained note is followed by an adjacent note, so the basic "attention" moves on.

That makes the question important just how you are going to end the sustain. Letting the last note of the melody and bass lines stand out when unpedaling does not make sense, so the unpedaling action should be rather brief.

That means that your long notes are probably fine being held just with the pedal. However, you want to let them keep some basic weight over the accumulating sustained notes, so it would be good if you manage to strike them more distinctly/louder than the simultaneously starting "shorter" notes that are actually sustained just as long.

So just to get a bit of a feeling for the long notes: if you have the skills required for holding the long notes while playing onward without needing to practice a lot, it may make some sense to try at first not pedalling at all and playing as written, just to get a hang of the voice leading you want to have more or less in the end.

It might also be possible to strike the long notes slightly before the shorter ones (so basically the reverse of the written order) to have them stand out with a slightly different point of articulation while not then interrupting the faster line. You need to try it out to see whether this works in your desired speed and interpretation.

Basically when you record the result, it should sound like what was written: consider the score a hearing rather than a playing instruction.

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A note duration is not an instruction to physically hold the keys down for a length of time. It's an instruction to make the note sound for that long. There's no reason to keep holding the keys down, since you're pedaling.

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There's no point in hanging on to those notes. That's what the pedal's for. If it's already held, then those notes will join the ones you've already held the pedal down after playing (but not let go till the pedal is deployed).

You could use the middle pedal, but there is no point.

2

I would advise not to hold the keys down.

You said "I feel I am more faithful to the original intention of the composer", but what was really his intention, physically holding down the notes, or making the notes sound during their duration? It's surely the second choice.

"And after all, what is the significance of holding these sustained notes?" Those notes are certainly very significant. They create a different harmony, try playing without them and listen at how it sounds.

1

In my opinion you should hold the keys down (at least for a while). But there are different points which influence the answer.

  • The written note duration is the maximum duration a note shall sound. In general a note is always a little shorter then it is written. Exceptions are, when the notes are under a legato bow.

    It further seems that only one voice continuous in the next bar. Therefore, maybe the two notes do not need to have the same duration. In Brahms edition, the half note ab4 is even missing.

    This may already solve your problem.

  • Sometimes it is easier to connect long notes musically, if they are pressed down all of their time.

  • If Chopin wanted to have short notes, then he probably would have written a quarter note.

    If Chopin wanted to have a short note, which is sustained by the pedal then he would have written a short note with exact pedal markings.

    You could think about not to play the melody legato here. Legato is not necessary to connect notes under a legato bow.

  • The d int the Ab-chord does not sound good if it is sustained for the whole bar. At least I would hold the keys from the second two half notes down until the d does not sound anymore. And only then use the pedal.

  • I am not completely sure about what your stance is. You say one may release half notes, but some of your reasons seem to suggest otherwise. – Aminopterin Jun 24 '17 at 16:43
  • Welcome to Music.SE and thanks for sharing your expertise! This a high-level answer which seems very helpful. It would help me (& Aminopterin) better understand your response if you could provide a single overarching recommendation about whether or not to hold each half note. When I read your current response, I see that some reasons conflict--certain reasons suggest to hold the half note, while others reasons suggest to release the half note. Could you additionally explain which of the reasons should receive the highest priority, & which of the reasons should receive the least consideration? – jdjazz Jun 24 '17 at 16:58
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    In music there is never a single truth. That's why, I refrained from beeing more detailed. It is important, that you consider all of the points I wrote down (and probably 100 more). If you do so, and at the end you decide: "I don't hold the keys down, but rather use the pedal", then it will be totally right, and your interpretation will sound right. But if you only spend one or two thoughts about the pedaling problem, and at the end you decide: "I don't hold the keys down, but rather use the pedal", then it will sound wrong. To help you more, I totally agree with user41282. – tommsch Jun 26 '17 at 10:15

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