The Mood of Autumn

leavesThe colors of the leaves are changing quickly now.  A few are starting to fall into my lawn.  All of those stupid trees seemed like a good idea in the spring and summer when they gave me some shade from the heat of the sun.  Now I’m beginning to regret the arrangement, as I work to fill bag after bag of fallen leaves. It’s coming.  You can feel it in the crisp night air.  Some days are still warm, but the warmth is fading, and the cold winter is ahead of us.  Days are shorter and nights are stretching longer.  It can even seem a bit melancholy at times.

Richard Strauss

This mood is captured over and over again in music from a great variety of sources.  The German composer Richard Strauss included an Autumnal mood in his Vier letzte Lieder, the four last songs he composed, at age 84.  His final completed compositions, include three songs on texts by Herman Hesse, and the fourth on a text by Joseph von Eichendorff.  Strauss had to know he was near the end of his life, and this is reflected in the moods of the songs, which range from Spring, to September, then sleeping and sunset.  “September” is the piece capturing the fading of the fall season.  The text in English reads like this:


The garden is in mourning.

Cool rain seeps into the flowers.

Summertime shudders,

quietly awaiting his end.

Golden leaf after leaf falls

from the tall acacia tree.

Summer smiles, astonished and feeble,

at his dying dream of a garden.

For just a while he tarries

beside the roses, yearning for repose.

Slowly he closes

his weary eyes.


The great soprano Renee Fleming gives a performance of these orchestral songs as great as anyone.

Strauss, “September”

Ella and LouisIn an entirely different genre of music, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong sing the jazz standard “Autumn in New York” on one of their collaboration albums.  The pairing of these two legendary musicians on the same record has always been a favorite of mine.  The results are sublime and masterful, with phrasing and inflection that only Ella and Satch could give us, and a complete lack of over complication.  Simplicity, beauty and powerful expression are put to use to give us another take on the mood of Autumn.  I hear the similar bittersweet emotion that I found in the Strauss.


Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, “Autumn in New York”

Adderley - Somethin Else (front)The Cannonball Adderley album “Something Else” gives us one of my favorite versions of another fall themed jazz standard “Autumn Leaves”.  This album features Miles Davis on trumpet, Cannonball on alto sax, the great Art Blakey on drums, and Sam Jones on bass.  The piano player is Hank Jones, one of the three Jones brothers born in my birthplace of Pontiac, Michigan, all of whom went on to be legends in jazz music.  In spite of the midtempo swing that they play this tune, I think if you read the lyrics and listen to that plaintive trumpet tone of Miles, you can still hear that the year’s best days are behind us as the autumn leaves start to fall.

“Autumn Leaves”

The falling leaves

Drift by my window

The falling leaves

Of red and gold


I see your lips

The summer kisses

The sunburned hands

I used to hold


Since you went away

The days grow long

And soon I’ll hear

Old winter’s song


But I miss you most of all

My darling

When autumn leaves

Start to fall


Since you went away

The days grow long

And soon I’ll hear

Old winter’s song


But I miss you most of all

My darling

When autumn leaves

Start to fall

Cannonball Adderley, “Autumn Leaves”

Billie HolidayI’ll throw in one last jazz standard because this is my blog and I can.  Although the song doesn’t specifically reference Autumn, I first heard it on a Billie Holiday compilation album called “Lady in Autumn”.  No one does raw, bitter sweet and melancholy like Lady Day.

Billie Holiday, “Come Rain or Come Shine”


6 thoughts on “The Mood of Autumn

Add yours

  1. Love everything on this post…you’ve covered some of my favorite bases, including Renee Fleming – quel voice!
    Jazz Cookie

  2. The Four Last Songs are magnificent but to fully appreciate the composition skills of Richard Strauss may I suggest Ein Heldenleiben (saw the Vienna Philharmonic do this in Viennea about 10 tears ago), Death and Transfiguration or even the much maligned Alpine Symphony. I find it interesting also, listening to Elgars “In the South” overture to realise how similar it is to the work of Strauss, indeed the first time I heard it I thought it was by Strauss.
    Nice blog and keep up the good work………….of course the “Duke” still remains king!

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