Radio 3’s “Capturing Twilight” season is an attempt to reflect the influence on the human psyche of the light that sits between two worlds – neither day nor night – where nothing looks or feels the way it should be. , a shimmering anticipation of change and transformation.
Twilight – whether it was the twilight between the end of night and the start of the day or the end of the day and the coming of night – has inspired or influenced artists of all kinds, from the visual arts, to poetry and from prose to music. It is a time of magic and creation.
The experience of twilight also affects us as human beings and the way we perceive and receive music at different times of the day. So while some of the music we’ve featured on Radio 3 explicitly reflects twilight in terms of the composer’s artistic intention, some will invoke a feeling of twilight in the listener’s mind – and sharing that has been a revelation for me because it made me aware of the wide range of works which, over the centuries, have represented or reflected in the sound the mood of this particular moment of the day.
For my own twilight thoughts, a starting point is Britten‘s Serenade for tenor, horn and strings. The overture “Pastoral” has words that invoke twilight, but the musical spirit of the piece, with sparse instrumentation gradually revealing more complexity of tone and color, and a journey into obscurity, make it something. that I have often turned to listen as the light fails.
My Covid year has often been spent working in my shed in the garden, where in winter especially the light fades in front of the window from which I look. Schubert‘s Piano Sonata in B flat minor, D960 is a piece that I always associate with gloaming and the reflective opportunity that it brings – especially in Alfred Brendel’s 1988 Philips recording.
The Athenaeum in Helsinki houses magnificent paintings, including scenes by Askeli Gallen-Kallela from the Kalevala, which seem to take place in a brilliant half-light that evokes a world that is both real and magical. Many Finnish painters of this period reflect light in this particular way. Sibelius’ music often strikes me as twilight – reflecting the light of a Finnish evening – whether it’s the twilight of a winter’s day or a summer’s night. Tome Sibelius‘s Fifth Symphony is an evocation of it, just like his Lemminkäiinen Suite – of which the second, “The Swan of Tuonela” is perhaps the most evocative of a kind of time and scene that makes you shudder in response to its strangeness.
Scandinavian music of all kinds reminds me of the twilight – for example, the Danish Quartet ‘Woodworking’ contains many tunes evoking the strange light close to long summer evenings in Norway or the Faroe Islands – this is a record that I put on often as the day fades into the summer.
The choral music, especially that associated with Choral Evensong – always a special part of the day on Radio 3 – is very suggestive of the twilight to me. Any polyphony or song associated with Vespers reminds me of the dying light. that of William Mundy Vox Patris Caelestis is a choral piece of music that I come back to often at the end of the day – it’s almost as if the stars are gradually coming out as the piece transforms from small bursts of light into quiet magnificence.
Finally, the work of Canadian painters known as “The Group of Seven” captures in a particular way the penumbra of the winter of northern Canada, whether in forests or lakes or further north in the snowy wild nature. One piece of contemporary music that reflects this to me is that of songwriter and ambient / soundscape artist Jonas Bonnetta. His All this here, recorded one winter on the island of Fogo off the coast of Newfoundland, perfectly encapsulates through a soundscape of field recordings, cello, violin, piano and electronics a particular twilight atmosphere of the North. The second track on the B side, ‘Tilting’ captures this atmosphere beautifully – but the whole thing should be listened to as the light falls.
Light is as important in music as it is in art and affects us deeply as human beings. Capturing Twilight on Radio 3 has been a great way to think of a special place between two worlds, one where anything can happen – and it often is.
BBC Radio 3 Capture the twilight marking the clock change and the start of the winter season with twilight-inspired music, art and literature – peaks on Sunday 10/31. More informations here