Top Five Odes to Fall

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

autumn leaves Autumn leaves. (hichako/flickr)

Well before Joseph Kosma’s Autumn Leaves became both a pop and jazz standard, the seasonal happening of the fall -- foliage turning colors, the shortening of days and harvest celebrations full of good food and drink -- inspired several musical minds of the season. In honor of Friday’s autumnal equinox, we’ve compiled our top five odes to the fall.

1. Vivaldi’s Concerto No. 3 (Autumn)

Perhaps no composer identifies as close with the seasons as Vivaldi, whose series of violin concertos are ubiquitous in classical collections. Though not as popular as Winter or Spring, Autumn is a familiar piece. Perhaps due to the harvest activities during this time of year, the work is written in a more narrative structure than the others. It begins with an allegro peasant dance then transitions to a lullaby for those partiers who imbibed too much ale or wine. The concerto ends with a rousing allegro movement to accompany a hunt.

2. Grieg’s In Autumn

Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg’s concert overture In Autumn forebodes the harsh Scandinavian winter. The work begins with a bright theme before segueing into a threatening "autumn storm." Though one of Grieg’s contemporaries, Niels Gade, told him the work was subpar, Grieg entered an arrangement of the piece four hands in a contest conducted by the Swedish Academy. It won first prize.

3. Ives’ Yale-Princeton Football Game

No American composer might have translated the fall season into music as well as Charles Ives. Thanksgiving, Hallowe’en, Maple Leaves, September and Autumn all provided subjects — and titles — for songs, movements and chamber works. However, his memorable orchestration of the Yale-Princeton Football Game, celebrating a rite of the season for sports fans, lands him in our top five.

4. Stravinsky’s Persephone

Igor Stravinsky’s melodrama Persephone could be considered a lesser-known counterpart to his Rite of Spring. The work for orchestra, tenor and a female narrator, tells the Greek myth about the goddess Persephone, the daughter of Greek goddess Demeter whose descent into the Underworld causes the fall season. Persephone’s ascent back to light restores the spring. The work was written in the 1930s for Ida Rubinstein’s ballet company. About 50 years later George Balanchine choreographed a version for New York City Ballet.

5. Respighi’s Autumn Poem

Italian composer Ottorino Respighi also attempted to describe a fall scene with Autumn Poem, a work for solo violin and orchestra. Though his descriptions aren’t quite as literal as in his other tone poems, such as The Birds, the folksy melody is supposed to portray a Dionysian bacchanal, ending with Pan, who celebrates under the falling leaves.

Weigh in: What's your favorite autumnal piece?

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