Since the beginning of time, (um… yes, why not) pianists had one thought and one thought only; how to play legato. Legato-playing became so accustomed to pianistic vocabulary, that, in the course of time, knowing how to play legato, somehow meant, ultimately, knowing how to play the piano altogether.
We all remember our beloved teachers saying to us, “don’t forget the legato on page 473”, or, “play more legato”. Sometimes we knew what they meant, but often we were completely clueless on how to actually physically do that legato.
So, to cut to the chase, here’s what legato is and the main two types, I consider, exist:
Legato is simply when there is no sound-gap between the notes we play on the piano. Legato can be successfully performed in all registers of the instrument and within all dynamic levels. Legato, has also been used by editors and composers as a means of making a musical phrase sounding “rounded off”, or as a method to create smooth or lyrical melodic lines.
The two types of legato are: The “real legato” and the “assisted legato”. However, both, in the everyday piano performance, are equally valid.
What is “real legato”: Real legato is when we are able to physically join notes together without a sound-gap. Look at the example below; arguably, most pianists can play the following passage without having to lift the hand before pressing the next note:
In the passage above, you can create your desired results by pedaling, or you can just simply play the notes without a sound-gap, or by using your own dynamics. Bear in mind, that expression marks themselves or tempo changes cannot change the pragmatic nature of legato (for instance, you can play legato equally in fff passages or pp).
The equally, musically-valid, “assisted legato” is used when we need to achieve the legato-effect using assisting methods. In the example below you can see that the left hand cannot physically join the notes, however, with careful use of pedal, it can create a legato illusion; this legato illusion is an unavoidable method since the fingers cannot be stretched enough to reach some of the notes, thus, declaring the use of pedal, legitimate.
Note, that it doesn’t necessarily constitute carelessness or negligence when one chooses to pedal passages rather than using real legato.