How to Play….. Song of Twilight

This charming and haunting piece by Japanese composer Yoshinao Nakada blends eastern and western culture in musical form. A spacious right hand melody is hung over the steady, almost hypnotic pulse of left hand chords.

Separate hands practice is crucial in this piece. You want to achieve a sense of the melody floating over the left hand chords, almost as if the two parts are not connected. Follow the fingering as given for the right hand to allow the smoothest, most serene finger legato, and be careful not to land too heavily with the thumb: there should be some tailing off of sound at the end of each phrase. To achieve a beautiful singing sound in the right hand, imagine the fingers are stuck to the keys all the time, and keep the hand and forearm light. (I encourage students to actually check for lightness before they play and to continue to check as they are playing.)

In bar 3 a little crescendo and diminuendo will help shape the repeated figures. The chord and harmony changes in the left hand should also be as smooth as possible: keep the movements very small. Although a pedal marking is given, do not be tempted to try pedalling this piece until the left hand chords are learnt properly.

At bar 9, the music modulates (changes key) into F-sharp minor, and the mood becomes more plaintive, with the right hand figures, now higher in the register, emphasising the twilight atmosphere. Be sure to note the pianissimo marking in the repeat.

This is a great introduction to straightforward legato pedalling as well as offering an opportunity for student and teacher to explore how the right-hand pedal is used to create atmosphere. After explaining the “see-saw” coordination of hand and foot to pedal this piece, I ask the student to write in the pedal markings to ensure they know exactly when the foot should be lifted to elide one harmony into another while avoiding a muddy sound. Keep the pedal movements small and do not release the foot too quickly.

It comes as no surprise to learn that the composer of this piece greatly admired Chopin, and this music is very reminiscent of Chopin’s Nocturnes. It is worth listening to some of the Nocturnes for reference, as well as Debussy’s more impressionistic pieces, such as Clair de Lune and La Fille aux cheveux de lin to hear how melody and pedal combine to create atmosphere. Although some three hundred years older, I find Bach’s Adagio from the Concerto in D minor after Marcello useful in teaching this piece, for both the hypnotic bass line and beautiful melody floating above it.

Here is Claire, one of my students, playing Song of Twilight

Song of Twilight

Here is Maurizio Pollini in Chopin’s Nocturne No. 8, Opus 27 no. 2

Bach, ‘Adagio’ from Concerto in D minor after Marcello BWV 947

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3 thoughts on “How to Play….. Song of Twilight

  1. Pingback: Orchestrating Mozart…. « The Cross-Eyed Pianist

  2. Hi Frances,
    I was struggling on my own with Song of Twilight’s sparse score markings when by chance I found this post of your blog. Brilliant!! Thanks, Marie-Noëlle

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