Autumn has come: crisp blue skies set against gently turning leaves, carpets of acorns and conkers on the grass, the scent of bonfires on the breeze, ripe pumpkins ready to be carved. It is, as John Keats wrote in his ode ‘To Autumn’, the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’.
With all its beauty and romance, autumn has long been a source of inspiration in the arts. I have explored before on my blog autumn poems, including the wonderful ‘Fall, Leaves, Fall’ by Emily Brontë (Every leaf speaks bliss to me / Fluttering from the autumn tree). I have also collated some of the most evocative depictions of autumn by painters, from Claude Monet’s Autumn Effect at Argenteuil to Albert Bierstadt’s Autumn Woods. Today, I’d like to share with you my favourite pieces of music inspired by autumn. I hope you will find them as stirring and beautiful as I do.
‘Autumn in New York’
By Vernon Duke
This jazz standard, written in 1934, has been recorded by so many of the greats: Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Bing Crosby and, as a duet, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. The ‘glittering crowds’, the ‘shimmering clouds’, the ‘promise of new love’ – the song transports you to a city steeped in romance.
‘Autumn’ (Allegro), from The Four Seasons
By Antonio Vivaldi
Italian composer Vivaldi composed The Four Seasons between 1718 and 1720; he wanted to capture, in violin concertos, the essence of each of the seasons. Each concerto was published with accompanying sonnets (whose author is unknown). The first two sonnet for the ‘Autumn’ concerto express the vibrant joy inherent in the music:
Celebrates the peasant, with songs and dances,
The pleasure of a bountiful harvest.
And fired up by Bacchus’ liquor,
Many end their revelry in sleep.
Everyone is made to forget their cares and to sing and dance
By the air which is tempered with pleasure
And (by) the season that invites so many, many
Out of their sweetest slumber to fine enjoyment
By Peter De Rose (lyrics by Sammy Gallop)
This song was made famous by jazz saxophonist John Coltrane and jazz singer Johnny Hartman, when they released it on their 1963 eponymous album. Autumn’s ‘lovely serenade’, ‘the sweetest music ever played’… so romantic.
‘Autumn Song’, from The Seasons
By Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
The Russian Romantic composer Tchaikovsky was commissioned to write The Seasons for publication in a music magazine of St. Petersburg: the editor requested he compose a piano piece for each month of the year. The mood of the October piece, simply entitled ‘Autumn Song’, contrasts with that of Vivaldi’s composition; it is poignant, drawing on a spectrum of emotions. I imagine leaves falling and drifting gently on the breeze.
By Joseph Kosma (lyrics by Jacques Prévert/Johnny Mercer)
‘Autumn Leaves’ is another jazz standard, composed in 1945. It was originally ‘Les Feuilles mortes’ (‘The Dead Leaves’), written for a French movie, and was translated into English in the 1950s, whereupon it was sung by Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Doris Day and Frank Sinatra. Autumn, of course, symbolises an ending – an end to warmth, to growth in nature. Here, the soulful Eva Cassidy captures the sadness of this sense of ending.
By Neil Young
Because I’m still in love with you I want to see you dance again Because I’m still in love with you On this harvest moon
I picture a couple, still in love after many years together, dancing in each other’s arms beneath the deep-orange moon of an autumnal night. Beautiful!
Photo credit: ozkan ulucam/Shutterstock