I have had a delightful letter from a piano trio in Tokyo, asking for advice about how to perform Judith Weir’s first Piano Trio. The work ends with the pianist banging shut the lid over the piano keyboard, dryly snapping everyone out of the realm of music and back into the real world. The moment at which the lid bangs down is precisely notated by the composer.
My friends in Japan report that they are struggling with this final gesture, because modern Japanese pianos have a soft-close mechanism preventing the lid from falling down over the keyboard. Instead, if you dislodge the lid or even tug on it, it closes with a graceful ritardando and the merest hint of a sigh. This mechanism has, no doubt, prevented many a little hand from being injured during piano practice. But it makes Judith Weir’s startling effect impossible.
I asked Judith what she would advise. She replied that the gesture should be decisive and surprising, and that perhaps the pianist, or all three of the players, could invent their own gesture which would have the desired effect. She suggested that for example the pianist might slap the piece of wood to the right of the piano keys, perhaps with both palms. Judith and I were both intrigued by this new problem because we have not yet come across the soft-close piano lid. The keyboard lid on my own piano clonks shut as merrily as you like.
Bob suggested – humorously, I hasten to add – that the pianist could leap to her feet and, with a lightning karate chop, sweep aside the stick holding up the main lid of the grand piano. The dramatic effect might be equalled only by the sight of ambulance crews rushing in to revive listeners who had fainted with shock.