Percussion 打楽器


What kind of instrument is the piano? There are three main answers: percussion, stringed, and keyboard. It is a percussion instrument because pressing the keys causes hammers to strike strings inside the piano. It is a stringed instrument because the reverberations of those strings make the sound. And it is a keyboard instrument by virtue of the way in which a performer plays the familiar black and white keys. As primarily a violinist, I confess to finding it difficult to think of the piano as a stringed instrument. I can understand the attraction of the keyboard instrument classification. After all, a pianist can probably adapt more quickly to playing the organ or harpsichord than to the side drum. However, for technical reasons the piano is most often classified as a percussion instrument. Of course, the piano’s lyrical qualities shape most of its repertoire. But I have long been interested in writing a piece that treats the piano purely as a percussion instrument. The piece is now complete, and is called Joya no Kane, New Year’s Eve Bell.

The idea for this piece actually dates back over 20 years. When I wrote Rainy Day back in 2000, the thinking was that it would be one of twelve pieces for piano and two violins, with each piece evoking a seasonal event of the Japanese calendar year. Rainy Day would be June. Tsuyu, the Japanese rainy season, is from mid-June to mid-July in Honshu. The idea was for this series of twelve pieces to be composed as a long-term project with pieces for other months gradually added. It was not to be, however. Other priorities took over, and Rainy Day remained as a short stand-alone piece when it was recorded for inclusion on my CD Chamber Works in 2017. However, sketches for some of the other months remained at the back of my mind. The idea for December was the piece that is now Joya no Kane.

Joya no Kane is a Japanese New Year’s Eve tradition. As described on one website introducing Japanese culture: “New Year’s Eve in Japan is known as ōmisoka. In the last moments of December 31, temple bells ring out across the nation to signal the end of one year and the start of the next. At each temple, the bells sound 108 times in a Buddhist ritual called joya no kane that represents the cleansing of 108 worldly passions. The very last ring comes in the New Year, accompanied by a wish that those who listen will not be plagued by their passions in the year ahead.” The concept for the piece is very simple. The piano is the bell. It peals 107 times in open fifths (D and A) at various registers on the piano. There is then a short pause before the 108th and final peal ends the piece. Above this pealing of the bell, a violin and cello explore various harmonies and dissonances, the worldly passions and their cleansings, that can be created against a pedal of D-A fifths.

To recreate the effect of a bell, the piece begins with the instruction “Ped al fine” in the piano part. In other words, the pianist depresses the sustain pedal with the first peal of the bell in bar 1 and only takes her/his foot off the pedal four and a half minutes later in bar 113. The temple bell has no damper to cut off the resonating sound. Likewise, after the piano hammers hit the strings, the sound is simply allowed to resonate until it ends naturally. The result is a piece for the pianist which looks very simple as notes on a page (see the sheet music here), but requires nerves of steel to perform. Any misplaced notes – whether the fault of the pianist or piano tuner – will reverberate for a long time!

I tried a few times to work on this piece around the end of the year in the hope that the New Year atmosphere would help me to complete the piece. As it turned out, the impetus to finish it came about as far away from New Year as possible, during mid-June 2021. On second thoughts, this now feels most appropriate. I hope that performances of this piece will not be limited to New Year. It might have a seasonal theme, but from a musical perspective it is an exploration of the soundscape created when the piano is played, in the purest way, as a percussion instrument.

20 June 2021

PS The answer to the quiz question in the previous blog post: Chuo Lawn, Hokkaido University.



この作品の構想は、実は20年以上前に遡ります。私は、ピアノと2つのバイオリンのために、日本の一年を彩る様々な風物詩を連想させる12曲を書こうと考えていました。そして、2000年に書いた「外は雨」を、そのうちの1曲に位置づけていたのです。「外は雨」は6月を描いた作品です。日本の雨季である梅雨は、本州では6月半ばから7月半ばにあたります。この12曲シリーズは、長期のプロジェクトとして、他の月の作品を徐々に書き足していく構想でした。しかし、書き足されることがないまま、ほかのプロジェクトが優先され、2017年のCDChamber Works」に「外は雨」が収録された際には、単独の短い曲となりました。とはいえ、ほかのいくつかの月の案は、頭の片隅にずっとありました。そして12月の案が、この「除夜の鐘」という作品になったのです。


鐘の効果を再現するために、この作品のピアノパートの冒頭はPed al fine(終わりまで右ペダルを踏む)という指示で始まります。つまり、ピアノパートは、1小節目の鐘の音とともに、サスティンペダルを踏み込み、4分半後の113小節目まで上げません。寺の鐘には、共鳴音を断ち切るダンパーがついていません。それと同様に、ピアノハンマーが弦を打った後、音が自然に鳴り止むまで響かせておくのです。この結果、ピアノ奏者にとって、譜面(こちらをご覧ください)はとても単純に見えるものの、演奏する際には、強靭な精神力を要する作品に仕上がっています。弾き手のミスであれ、ピアノ調律師のミスであれ、間違った音はどれも長い間響いてしまうわけです!



PS 前回のブログ記事にあったクイズの答えは、北海道大学の中央ローンでした。