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10 Classical Vocal Works for Autumn/Fall

Updated: Jan 15



Autumn, with its vibrant colours and melancholic undertones, has inspired countless classical composers to create music that captures the essence of this season! Sometimes the season or features of the season are mentioned in the text or score, and sometimes the general vibe is implied. Read on for ten classical vocal works which are set to texts which are connected to autumn/fall, or involve stories which take place during this time!



Are you a music educator, homeschooler, parent, carer, or otherwise involved in educating school-aged children? Check out the 10 Classical Music Works about Autumn/Fall digital download, available on Etsy!


Note: works included are (mostly) not the same as in this blog post, as instrumental works are also included.

 

Robert Schumann - Herbstlied (Das Laub fällt von den Bäumen), Op. 43, No. 2


Schumann's "Herbstlied" (Autumn Song) is the second in a set of 3 duets. The text by Siegfried August Mahlmann compares the falling leaves and the silent birds to the loss of love, but ends with the hope that love will return.



English translation:

The leaves fall from the trees,

The delicate summer leaves.

Life with its dreams

Falls apart in ashes and dust—yes, yes.


The little birds in the woods sang,

How the wood is now silent!

Love has departed,

No bird wants to sing—yes, yes.


Love will return again

In the dear future year,

And all things then will return

That now have died away.


You, winter, be welcome,

Your garment is pure and new,

He took the decorations,

The ornaments he keeps faithfully!

 

Alban Berg - Jugendlieder: Herbstgefühl


Berg's "Herbstgefühl" (Autumn Feeling) is one of his early vocal works, composed at the beginning of the 20th century. It presents a blend of melancholy and introspection, painting a portrait of the introspective nature of the season.



English translation:

Withered leaves, lifeless gods,

Extinguished love, dissipated happiness;

The canopy of the trees, the dreams of youth,

They shrivel back into nothingness.


What stirs the linden, what sighs in the wind?

Bush and shrub alike fear death.

Dying impulse, fading love,

The world shudders with its dying breath.

 

Richard Strauss - Vier letzte Lieder: September


"September" from Strauss's celebrated "Vier letzte Lieder" (Four Last Songs) depicts the transition from summer to autumn, creating a personification of summer as a person experiencing their last moments as they return to the earth.



English translation:

The garden mourns

The rain sinks coolly into the flowers.

The summer shudders

Silently towards its end.


Golden drips leaf after leaf

Down from the tall acacia tree.

Summer smiles astonished and weak

Into the dying garden dream.


Long with the roses

He stands still, he longs for peace.

He slowly lets his big

Tired eyes close.

 

Gabriel Fauré - Automne, Op. 18, No. 3


Fauré's "Automne" encapsulates the bittersweet beauty of the autumn season. The text by Armand Silvestre presents the protagonist's melancholic feelings about aging.



English translation:

Autumn of misty skies, of heartbreaking horizons,

Of rapid sunsets and pale dawns,

I watch flow by, like torrential water,

Your days imbued with melancholy.


My thoughts, borne away on the wings of regret,

– As though our time could be reborn! –

Roaming, in dreams, the enchanted hills,

Where once smiled my youth.


I feel, in the bright sun of triumphant memory

Reflower in bouquets the untied roses,

And tears rise to my eyes, which in my heart

My twenty years had forgotten!

 

Jules Massenet - Pensée d'automne


Massenet's "Pensée d'automne" is a setting of another autumnal poem by Armand Silvestre. The text covers a few different themes, such as the passing of time, nostalgia, and longing for a lost love and beauty.



English translation:

The year is fleeing towards its decline, like a stream that passes,

Carrying away from the setting the fleeing clarities;

And the same as that of the saddened birds,

The flight of memories languishes in space.

The year is fleeing towards its decline, like a passing stream.


A little soul still wanders to the deceased chalices

Slow volubilis and hollyhocks,

And towards the firmament of distant lights,

A dream is still rising on the perfume wing.

A little soul still wanders to the deceased chalices.


A farewell song comes out of troubled sources;

Please, my love, let's get back on the road

Where both of them, in the spring, and hand in hand,

We followed the fragrant whim of the alleys;

A farewell song comes out of troubled sources!


A love song comes out of my fervent heart

That an eternal April bloomed with youth.

Let the good days die! Let the bitter winter be reborn!

Like a joyful hymn in the sound of the wind,

A love song comes out of my fervent heart!


A love song to your sacred beauty,

Woman, immortal summer! Woman, immortal spring!

Sister of the burning star which, through the floating heavens,

Pours in all seasons, its golden light,

A love song to your sacred beauty.


Woman, immortal summer! Woman, immortal spring!


 

Reynaldo Hahn - Chansons grises: Chanson d'automne


Hahn's "Chanson d'automne" (Song of autumn) is a wistful, unresolved musical setting of a poem by Paul Verlaine. The poem compares autumn to a hopeless, deep pain experienced by the protagonist.



English translation:

The long sobs

Of the violins

Of autumn

Hurt my heart

With a languor

Monotonous.


All suffocating

And pale, when

The hour strikes,

I remember

The old days

And I'm crying;


And I'm leaving

In the bad wind

Who is taking me away

Here, beyond,

Same as the

Dead leaf.

 

Henry Purcell - The Fairy Queen Z.629: See My Many Colour'd Fields


"See My Many Colour'd Fields" is from Purcell's semi-opera (a 17th century genre combining spoken plays with "episodes" including singing and dancing) "The Fairy Queen". The character of Autumn (and this excerpt) is featured in the Masque IV (Phoebus and the Four Seasons) section.


 

Benjamin Britten - On This Island: Now the leaves are falling fast


"On This Island" was Britten's first published collection of art songs with piano, set to texts by W. H. Auden from Auden's collection "Look, Stranger!". The vocal line of "Now the leaves are falling fast" imitates the leaves as they fall to the ground.


 

Douglas Moore - The Ballad of Baby Doe: Warm as the autumn light


"Warm as the autumn light" is sung by the character Horace Tabor in Act I of the opera "The Ballad of Baby Doe". Horace overhears Baby singing "The Willow Song" and applauds her, which she does not expect. He then sings this aria to her, describing the beauty of her singing and how it reminded him of precious hometown memories.


 

Rebecca Clarke - As I Was Goin' to Ballynure


Clarke arranged this Irish folk song for voice and violin. The text describes an incident on the "fifth day of November", where the protagonist overhears a teasing conversation between a "wee laddie" and "his wee lass".


 

These ten classical vocal music works offer a varied exploration of autumn's musical tapestry. Interested in discovering more classical music or more vocal repertoire? Book a 1:1 Classical Music Immersion session or singing lesson with me!



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