Turnage - Tune for Toru


Turnage is one of the most prolific, living British composers. Although he could be described as a Western, contemporary classical composer, his compositions are often jazz inspired. Turnage has developed a reputation as a musician who has created a synthesis between modernism and tradition, blending jazz styles with more traditional methods of writing.

Turnage has written many operas (‘Greek’ and ‘The Silver Tassie’), orchestral works, a ballet (‘From all Sides’) and numerous concerti, orchestral, choral and chamber works.

He has been a resident composer with both the CBSO and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He is also a professor of composition at the Royal College of Music.

Pupil Match & Suitability

Tune for Toru is a piece that requires both subtlety and sensitivity.

It would suit a reflective pupil; a ‘thinker’ perhaps, with good imagination and an ability to see beyond the notes. That being said, it is an excellent introduction to contemporary repertoire and so could be viewed as an in-road to and exploration of more modern styles.

Style & Tempo

The metronome mark of crotchet = 54, preceded by the performance direction of ‘Floating’, is enough of an indicator as to the overall temperament and style of this piece. This is not music to be hurried.

The frequent time signature changes do need to be carefully accounted for and it is vital that extra beats do not mysteriously appear!

Phrasing & Articulation

A long, cantabile approach is needed in the right hand, though there is scope for more expansive and sweeping phrasing between bars 10-13 and 20-24 where the music reaches heightened points of crescendi.

Tone & Texture

A mellow and subdued tone is required in this piece.

Whilst there is little dynamic variety in this gentle movement, there is certainly scope for shapely musical phrases and a texture which gives prominence to the melody line without the LH chords becoming intrusive.

The ending demands a poised finish and careful placing of the final chords is a must if an atmospheric effect is to be achieved.


‘Tune for Toru’ does not possess the same technical demands as, say, a Baroque or Classical piece. It does not contain any particular demands on finger dexterity or rapid movements which need to be crisply articulated.

Therefore, it may come across as being an ‘easier option’. However, this is not necessarily the case. Whilst, to the ear it may sound as though the piece is only mildly challenging, one should not be lulled into a false sense of security!


Fingering poses no immediate difficulties here, though there are some wide stretches in the left hand at bar 14, which could result in ‘letting go’ of the longer notes before desirable (see pedalling).

At bar 14, the stretch from the G in the left hand down to the bass note E is possible for only the very largest hands. This can be split with use of the pedal.


There are some wide stretches in the left hand which need careful negotiation.

Bar 14 is an example which could result in ‘letting go’ of the longer notes before desirable. In this instance a little deft use of the sostenuto pedal could be applied just after the first beat in bar 14 to ensure that the bass line is well sustained.

Similarly, the sostenuto pedal could be used carefully at bar 9 to ensure that the bass note is not lost whilst the middle voice continues to play. On an upright piano or where the piano has no sostenuto pedal, the left hand C# in bar 9 could be played in the right hand which would allow (if the hand is flexible enough) for keeping the bass note G# sustained.

Teaching Strategies

Notice the elegant playing of the LH here. The mood is felt in the performer's fluid and graceful actions which translate into eloquent musical shapes.

The freedom and almost timeless feeling of this piece has the potential to open up many opportunities to explore the musical imagination of students. The very biographical nature of these works could instigate an opportunity for improvisation and composition. Perhaps a student could compose their own ‘True Life Story’.

The use of pictorial analogies and stories could also help to open up the imagination of a student. Perhaps playing the piece as duet (the teacher taking one hand, whilst the pupil takes the other), will help to develop greater aural awareness and sensitivity to the stylistic possibilities; not to mention in helping with counting and maintaining the seamless quality of the music across time signature changes.

Practice Tips

A good way to practise coordination of the pedal would be to synchronize it carefully with just the LH at first and then add in the other parts to gauge a sense of how the different lines blend together.

Singing the counting whilst playing could help with the rhythmic challenges of the piece and ensure a steady pulse.


Contemporary repertoire can often be sadly overlooked by many pupils. Often, it is a case of fear of the unknown and lack of familiarity with the idioms.

This piece, in many respects is very easy on the ear and possesses a very ‘tuneful’ melodic line; though tonally, it is quite diverse and contains some very interesting harmonies.

That said, it is a short and super piece to use as as an introduction to more contemporary styles without it being too avant-garde. At the same time it opens up the ears to the gateway of some wonderful modern music.

It is the role of the teacher to present modern repertoire in an attractive and exciting way to pupils. It is about exploration - and it may be that the pupil finds a niche for themselves through a style to which they may not have been previously exposed.

Final Performance

An excellent performance is one which will show a sincere approach and convincing level of stylistic awareness. It will be a performance that demonstrates awareness of the tonal complexities and colours of the piece, whilst being rhythmically secure.
That said, it will not be stilted in rhythm and will have a spacious and timeless feel with careful rubato in proportion to the phrase lengths. It will show clear pedalling as instructed by the composer and will adhere to the dynamics and other performance directions as indicated in the score.

A good performance will show a commendable level of accuracy and some awareness of the idiom. Emerging colouristic properties and dynamic possibilities will have been explored, though the playing may need more subtlety in the touch and careful balancing of the chords.

A sound performance will be rhythmically secure enough to show reliable continuity, but will probably need a more mature response to the style in terms of sensitivity to tonal control, textural balance and use of the pedal.

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