Best classical music inspired by autumn
As the weather gets colder, we choose the best pieces of music to listen to by the fire
Autumn, with its golden leaves and misty mornings, is here. To keep you company as the nights draw in, we present some of the best classical music inspired by the season.
Vivaldi – The Four Seasons, 'Autumn' (1723)
What seasonal playlist could fail to include Vivaldi? From the Allegro’s post-harvest celebrations in 'Autumn', Vivaldi’s programmatic music transports us to the somewhat less vibrant morning after, where slow moving suspensions come as close to a musical hangover as anything you’ve ever heard. In the stately final Allegro, ‘The Hunt’, a virtuosic violin solo represents the hunter’s fleeing quarry, which they eventually catch and kill. Not so fun for the quarry, but a jolly old time for all the hunters.
Bax – November Woods (1917)
Though ostensibly inspired by nature, Bax’s November Woods also acts as a musical portrait of his turbulent love affair with pianist Harriet Cohen. An often unsettling work, the tone poem fluctuates between stormy drama and quiet ecstasy, yet fades to a quiet and unresolved finish.
Fanny Mendelssohn – Das Jahr (1841)
Fanny Mendelssohn wrote the piano cycle Das Jahr as a musical diary of the year she spent with her family in Rome. The 12 months are represented by 12 individual movements. In 'September' a flowing accompaniment overlays a dark melody in the left hand. 'October' is a brighter, march-like song, but 'November' returns to introspection and a minor key. She instructs the performer to play sadly.
Richard Strauss – Four Last Songs, ‘September’
Sometimes considered Strauss’s own musical epitaph, all of the Four Last Songs are themed around death. ‘September’ is a shimmering and uplifting work, which calmly compares the passing of the seasons with the passing of life. Strauss also includes a poignant and wistful solo for his father’s instrument: the French horn.
Imogen Holst – The Fall of the Leaf (1963)
The Fall of the Leaf was written as a study piece for Holst's friend, the cellist and pianist Pamela Hind O’Malley. It is based on a tune by Martin Peerson that Holst found in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (1572-1651). Unified by this melody, all six movements expand on it using a variety of different string techniques, from pizzicato to double-stopping.
Massenet – Pensée d’Automne (1887)
‘The year slips away like a flowing stream,’ mourns the soprano soloist in the opening lines of Massenet’s Pensée d’Automne (Thoughts of Autumn). Based on a poem by Armand Silvestre, the song perfectly expresses the melancholy that comes as the summer ends.
Listen to our playlist of autumnal music here: