Monday Melodic Musings: Suna no Utsuwa – Piano Concerto ‘Shukumei’ 1st movement

And you thought this was all an April Fool’s Day joke…

Now that we have the shocking announcement out of the way, let’s move on to this week’s piece by starting off with the source. If you’re like me at all, you probably haven’t heard of Suna no Utsuwa, a J-drama that aired in 2004 and revolves around murder and a pianist, subjects that aren’t normally bedfellows, but I’m told it works well here.

But if there is something about this show that I have heard of, it would be composer Akira Senju. I first became aware of how well Senju can channel drama and melancholy when he scored the Red Garden soundtrack (I rated it a rare masterpiece) though I’m sure most people really know him best through his Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood soundtrack (not as well-regarded by me, but I seem to be a minority opinion-holder). Through Suna no Utsuwa, Senju gives us a firm reminder of his ability to capture the mix of hope and despair, and nowhere is that displayed more brilliantly than in the piano concerto that he composed for the show (Speaking as a fanboy for piano concertos, one need only look at the number of piano concertos in anime to quickly see why J-drama OSTs are superior).

Piano Concerto ‘Shukumei’ 1st movement

[audio:01-Piano Concerto ‘Shukumei’ 1st movement.mp3]

In listening to the first movement of “Piano Concerto ‘Shukumei,'” I’m entranced by how well it balances out the feeling of dread and despair with the glimmer of hope that materializes amidst the gloom. The piece starts off on an ominous foot, with chords that evoke a feeling of suffering, one that’s further augmented by the orchestra’s melancholy melody highlighting the tragedies that gnaw away at the protagonist, Eiryo Waga. As the orchestra continues on, you get a sense for the battle Waga faces as he looks back upon his dark past; the piece evokes this with a slow, ponderous melody that carries with it a sense of hopelessness, that the emotional scars that mar his soul are too deep and will never heal.

Or perhaps the past that haunts him can be overcome. The shift around 3:30 seems to indicate as such, as the ensemble plays a hopeful section that bears a lightness borne out of the possibility of Waga’s redemption. The piano and orchestra work together well to convey these feelings, not only in this section alone, but in subsequent hopeful sections, suggesting that the shackles that bind him to the past will dissolve so that he may live his new life a free man.

But all of that’s nothing more than a brief respite as the ponderous theme in the earlier part comes back with a vengeance. Every subsequent hopeful section is followed by a section that is dark and tension-filled, and you begin to wonder to what degree the hope is but an illusion that only leads Waga to futility and despair? As the piece continues, the glimpses of redemption appear, only to be overcome and beaten down by the trials and tribulations that come after. The first movement certainly doesn’t end on a hopeful note; Senju’s poignant depiction of the suffering Waga must endure suggests further spiritual pains that come from Waga wrestling with his demons. And as his crimes catch up to him, the melody responds with a swift blow of incoming retribution. Needless to say, the listener is left feeling pessimistic about Waga’s mental state and whether he can atone for his misdeeds.

(For all of you who’ve gotten this far and are fretting, yes, this actually is an April Fool’s joke, albeit, one that lasts longer than the usual one-day routine that everyone else seems to enjoy pulling. In fact, this will run for a week. If you’re here only for anime music, have patience with us until then! For those who don’t mind our amusing diversion, we hope you’re enjoying it find a track or two to enjoy.)


Anime Instrumentality's Founder and Editor-in-Chief. As you can probably guess, I'm a big anime music junkie with a special love for composers who've put out some beautiful melodies to accompany some of my favorite anime series. I tend to gravitate towards music in the classical style with Joe Hisaishi and Yoko Kanno being a few of my favorite composers, but I've come to appreciate jazz and rock as anime music has widened my tastes.

12 thoughts on “Monday Melodic Musings: Suna no Utsuwa – Piano Concerto ‘Shukumei’ 1st movement

  • April 2, 2012 at 3:40 am

    A two part 21-minute piano concerto by Akira Senju? Checkmate, anime, you never stood a chance.

    • April 2, 2012 at 10:02 am

      When’s the last time anime ever had a stirring piano concerto of much length grace the disc? Or for that matter, a track longer than 10 minutes? It’s a sign of the times, I tell ya.

      • April 2, 2012 at 4:02 pm

        Yeah, it’s pretty rare nowadays, even with mainstream music. The only (recent) ones I can recall are Nightwish — they have a 14 minutes-long colossal masterpiece on one of their albums — although it’s not the same style at all.

        Having the guts to do something as involved as a long musical piece is usually very hard, as it must convey some sense of unity, and at the same time never stay the same, lest it became boring.

      • April 3, 2012 at 10:09 am

        Yeah, I wonder to what extent lengthy pieces are becoming less commonplace. It’s just easier to keep the audience rapt in attention with a 3-4 minute song, but much harder to do so over the span of 10+ minutes. Guess that’s part of the reason why the symphonies/concertos/whatever else I’ve come to know and love are designated classics.

      • April 3, 2012 at 1:11 pm

        @zz: I really can’t think of any piano concertos in anime and the only recent 10-minute track I can think of is that instrumental medley on Zero no Tsukaima F’s soundtrack.

      • April 3, 2012 at 2:57 pm

        I remember reading through the liner notes on the Fafner OST and recall the composer calling “SHOKO” a concerto. I think that one track on Aquarion OST2 might qualify too. Maybe. Beyond that, I’m coming up empty too.

        Longest track that I could think of (and I didn’t know about ZnTF’s OST) was that one from Now and Then, Here and There. If I recall correctly, that was about 20mins or so.

      • April 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm

        I just listened to “SHOKO” and it definitely sounds like a concerto. Too bad it’s so short. I think I know the track you’re talking about from Aquarion and, yeah, I think that would qualify too.

        Yeah, “Standing in the Sunset Glow” is the longest track I can think of from an anime soundtrack and that’s from over a decade ago.

      • April 3, 2012 at 11:24 pm

        This is probably the closest I can think of anime being a piano concerto. Cheating a little though. It’s Shinji’s theme from the Symphonic Evangelion Concert.

  • April 2, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Jeez, I’m utterly loving this! Superbly well-crafted, with varied ups and downs and well-timed climatic moments! And quite enjoy the themes!! I can really sense the romance, vision and turmoil. Really need to get my hands on this now.

    Zz: You’re awesome at picking music. Could you pass me a list of piano concertos, both classical and more mainstream for me to upgrade my listening skills?

    • April 3, 2012 at 10:35 am

      Talk about opening a floodgate of suggestions! That said, most of my favorites are from the classical canon. Sooo my favorites. In some kind of order.

      Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto
      Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto (called the “Emperor Concerto”)
      Chopin’s 1st Piano Concerto
      Brahms’s 2nd Piano Concerto
      Grieg’s Piano Concerto
      Tchaikovsky’s 1st Piano Concerto
      Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto
      Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto
      Chopin’s 2nd Piano Concerto
      Prokofiev’s 3rd Piano Concerto

      Just get through these 10 (or at the bare minimum, the top 5), and you should be well on your way. Hope this helps!

      • April 3, 2012 at 5:20 pm

        Woohoo! Good to see I’ve done half the list, with Rachmaninoff being a fav. Will check the rest out soon 😀

    • April 3, 2012 at 5:40 pm

      I’d have to say that classical concertos /are/ the mainstream ones 😛 In addition to Zzeroparticle’s list of popular greats, notable works that I personally like include Mozart’s 21st, Brahms’s 1st and 2nd, Schumann’s 1st, and Dvorak’s 1st. If you’re looking for something a little less classically mainstream, I would look into the Yellow River piano concerto. I can’t remember anything else at the moment.

      Unfortunately, Senju hasn’t written anything else quite as involved as this (at least, as far as I’m aware). Neither have I come across anything quite like it in any other drama OST.


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