8 Classical Music Works about...Autumn/Fall

Updated: Mar 22

Many composers have been inspired by the seasons in their work. As the Southern Hemisphere heads into autumn/fall 2021, have a listen to our 8 selections inspired by autumn! Below these selections, you will find autumn/fall activities for our four age groups: Adults (18+), Youth (12-18), Childhood (6-12), Early Childhood (0-6).

The Four Seasons: L’autunno (Autumn)

Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was an Italian composer, violinist, teacher, and priest. He is considered to be one of the greatest composers of the Baroque era.

The Four Seasons (Italian: Le quattro stagioni) is a group of four violin concerti (plural of concerto = a work for solo instrument/s and orchestra). They are based on poems (probably written by Vivaldi himself). They are some of the earliest examples of "programme music" - where the music is telling a particular story.

Each of the four concerti are divided into three movements, or sections. In "Autumn", the movements and their inspirations based on the poems are as follows:

  • I. Allegro: Peasants singing/dancing after the autumn harvest.

  • II. Adagio molto: The peace and sleep after the party ends.

  • III. Allegro: Hunters with their horns, guns, and dogs.

Chanson d'automne (Autumn Song)

Reynaldo Hahn

Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947) was a composer, conductor, music critic, theatre director, and singer. He was born in Venezuela, but moved to France as a young child. He was a child prodigy singer and pianist. At the age of eight, Hahn composed his first songs, and he began studying at the conservatoire in Paris at the age of ten.

The "Chanson d'automne" is the first of seven songs in the Chansons grises (Grey Songs) song cycle (set). All the poems in the cycle are by the celebrated poet Paul Verlaine.

English translation of the poem:

The long sobs of the autumn violins

injure my heart with their monotonous lethargy.

All choking and pale when the hour sounds,

I remember the old days and I weep;

And I go where the bad winds blow,

they toss me to and fro, like a dead leaf.

November Woods

Arnold Bax

Arnold Bax (1883-1953) was a British composer, poet, and author. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he also had other sources of income, which enabled him to follow his musical career as he saw fit. He was heavily inspired by Celtic and Nordic legends and traditions, particularly in the early years of his career.

"November Woods" is an example of a symphonic poem/tone poem - a piece of orchestral music which illustrates or evokes the content of another source, such as a poem, short story, novel, painting, or landscape.

According to Arnold Bax, however, the piece is not programme music: "[It] may be taken as an impression of the dank and stormy music of nature in the late autumn, but the whole piece and its origins are connected with certain rather troublous experiences I was going through myself at the time....".

The Seasons: Fall

John Cage

John Cage (1912-1992) was an American composer, music theorist, artist, and philosopher. His work "The Seasons" is a ballet for solo piano or orchestra. It was commissioned by the Ballet Society in New York, with original choreography by Merce Cunningham.

Cage was inspired by the indigenous North American Indians' concept of the seasons: winter is associated with serenity, spring with creation, summer with preservation, and fall/autumn with destruction.

"The Seasons" was the first of Cage's compositions to use what he called the gamut composition technique - where he selected particular notes, chords, and other groupings of sounds to highlight. He also used mathematical proportions in this work.

The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires: Otoño Porteño

Astor Piazzolla

Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) was a 20th century Argentinian tango composer. He moved to a rough New York City neighbourhood with his family as a child, and had to learn to take care of himself as his parents worked long hours. When he was at home, he loved to listen to his father's records of the tango orchestras, and was exposed to jazz and classical music from an early age.

"The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires" was written for Piazzolla's five-piece ensemble of violin, piano, electric guitar, double bass, and bandonéon (a type of accordion). Piazzolla himself was a talented bandonéonist, having begun playing when his father spotted the instrument in a pawn shop.

"Otono Porteño" is the last of the seasons featured in this work, and highlights the bandonéon, with the other instruments also being featured individually as the piece goes on. It has been performed in a variety of different instrumental arrangements.

Ceremonial - An Autumn Ode

Tōru Takemitsu

Tōru Takemitsu (1930-1996) was a Japanese composer and writer. Through his father's music collection, he was exposed to many kinds of music, many of which would have been off-limits in his home country. At age 14, he was conscripted into the army. During this time he was exposed once again to new genres of music, and determined that he wanted to become a composer.

Takemitsu loved experimenting with sound and silence, and creating unusual combinations of musical elements. He later began including traditional Japanese instruments in his compositions - "Ceremonial - An Autumn Ode" was the last of his works to do so (it is written for shō and orchestra).

This work was written to highlight shō musician Mayumi Miyata. Takemitsu was often inspired by nature - particularly gardens and water, and in this case the season of autumn.

Autumn Gardens

Einojuhani Rautavaara

Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016) was a Finnish composer. His early works were examples of serialism: a technique using a precise series of musical elements to compose. Later, his music became more neoromantic (an artistic movement where music became more emotional, rather than being based on principles such as logic or realism).

"Autumn Gardens" is an orchestral work divided into three movements:

I. Poetico

II. Tranquillo

III. Giocoso et leggiero

Rautavaara on this piece: "I have often compared composing to gardening. In both processes, one observes and controls organic growth rather than constructing or assembling existing components and elements. I would also like to think that my compositions are rather like ‘English gardens’, freely growing and organic, as opposed to those that are pruned to geometric precision and severity."

The Seasons: Autumn

Thea Musgrave

Thea Musgrave (1928-present) is a Scottish composer. She often highlights historic figures in her operas and other musical theatre works, such as Mary, Queen of Scots, Harriet Tubman ("Harriet, the Woman called Moses"), and Simón Bolívar. Her orchestral works often show her fascination with ‘dramatic-abstract’ musical ideas, and some of her works are also inspired by the visual arts.

"The Seasons" was conceived after a visit to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, where Musgrave came across Piero di Cosimo’s "Caccia Primitiva", inspiring the idea that images related to the four seasons could be a metaphor for the cycles in the life of man. The Academy of St Martin's in the Fields commissioned the work in 1988.

In "Autumn", one of the main musical motives includes hunting horns. The overall themes of this season's musical representation are storms, violence, and destruction. Later, the medieval sounds of the mourning "Dies irae" pattern ring out.

Our first activity for the week is for the little ones (and parents/carers as required!): Autumn Tree Handprint Design

What you'll need: - Paper plate - Paper in autumn/fall colours - Coloured card (for the tree trunk) - Pencil/pen - Child-friendly scissors - Glue

What to do: - Using a pencil, trace the child's hand and arm onto the coloured card. Cut out and glue onto the paper plate. - Draw leaf shapes onto the coloured paper. Cut out, arrange, and glue onto the plate. - Add extra decorations as desired!

Make a washi tape leaf design!

What you'll need: - Coloured card - Several different washi tape designs - Child-friendly scissors - Pencil - Glue/tape

What to do:

- Fold the coloured card in half width-wise. - On the front of your card, draw a large leaf shape. Cut out. - On the inside of the card, stick down strips of washi tape so that when you close the card, the interior of the leaf template is filled with the washi designs. - Once your work is complete, spread glue around the inside edges of the card and close. Let dry. Done!

Clay leaf bowls are a great craft for older children and teens. Perfect for holding keys, trinkets, or phones! Note that you may have to wait a couple of days before you can paint your bowl.

What you'll need: - A large leaf - Air drying clay (unless you are clay experts and have access to a kiln!) - Acrylic paints - Acrylic varnish - Rolling pin - Knife - Paper towel - Paper bowl - Paintbrushes

What to do: - Take a lump of clay and roll it out with a rolling pin. - Place the leaf so that the veins are going into the clay. Use the rolling pin to push it in enough to make an imprint (but so that you can still remove the leaf easily). - Use the knife to cut around the edges of the leaf. Smooth down the edges as needed. Remove the leaf. - Lay a sheet of paper towel inside of the paper bowl. Carefully lift the clay leaf off your work surface. Place it inside the bowl and gently press it down so it curves according to the shape of the bowl. - Once the clay is dry (check clay instructions), you can decorate it using your acrylic paints. Let dry and then add varnish. Let the varnish dry and you're done!

Make a pumpkin painting!

What you'll need: - Canvas or wooden board - Pumpkin (or a picture of one) - Pencil - Paintbrushes - Acrylic paints - Varnish/gloss (optional, if you know what you're doing!)

What to do: - Sketch the outline of a pumpkin onto your chosen surface. Use the real pumpkin/picture for reference. - Paint and finish as desired - search YouTube/elsewhere online for tips if you're new to painting!

Do you have a favourite "inspired by autumn" classical music work? Let us know in the comments!

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