"At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost."
― Rainer Maria Rilke
For aeons, poets, musicians, and artists of all kinds have been fascinated by the depth and nostalgic atmospheres associated with autumn.
Of all seasons, autumn is the only one capable of evoking a sense of ending and beginning simultaneously, creating a juxtaposition within the minds of everyone and inspiring unique feelings and, in the case of artists, works of art.
The last days of warm weather, a sudden cold wind, the leaves turning yellow and flying around us on an evening walk, observing the days as they get shorter and shorter.
Whichever way you look at it, autumn showcases its thousands of facets all at once, encouraging us to reinterpret those smells and colours as well as our own feelings.
Credit: Timothy Eberly/Unsplash
Although many tried, very few artists have been able to perfectly capture the endless intricacies of Mother Nature in autumn with their art. And yet, often, musicians experience this season as a form of long-awaited spiritual awakening, after the distracting warmer seasons encouraged them to look outside rather than within.
As a recording artiste myself, I can tell you there are also some technical reasons why autumn is such a powerful source of inspiration for musicians.
Many artistes release albums in spring, go on tour in summer, and then go back to the recording studio in winter. That leaves autumn to compose new music.
However, there’s much more to it than simple career planning.
In this article, I’ll take you on a journey through crepuscular soundscapes, kindly offered by artistes who were able to translate the moods and atmospheres of autumn into poignant music.
From timeless classics to haunting minimalist pieces and complex orchestral compositions, we’ll explore the depths of autumn as it was experienced by artistes throughout history.
THE SOUND OF AUTUMN
Autumn is the season of cosiness, solitude, and darker nights; no wonder most people associate it with soothing jazz melodies and warm voices from different eras.
While spring and summer are the seasons of experimentation and exploration, autumn brings us back to what we’re most familiar with.
With their calming voices and slow rhythms, songs from our childhood remind us we’re not facing this new chapter alone as we listen to them sitting by the fire.
Autumn is not only the season of remembrance and nostalgia but also one of intimacy and spiritual reconciliation with ourselves. Many acoustic songs, while not distinctively about autumn, are still capable of evoking those feelings typical of this crepuscular season.
Folk songs are often associated with autumn because they evoke a sense of intimacy and connection with one’s traditions no other genre can match.
The simple structure and timeless lyrics act as a bridge between the outer world and the mind, taking us into a state of peaceful remembrance.
When I think of an artiste that can accompany me through those moments of self-inspections, Nick Drake often comes to mind.
Nick Drake (1971). Credits: Island Records/Wikimedia Commons
His minimalistic compositions, delicate voice, and sensitive lyrics are the epitome of the lonesome artiste sitting in the comfort of their home during the quiet hours, giving voice to their fragile soul before winter comes, possibly for the last time.
Many artistes see autumn as the most unambiguous expression in nature of the passing of time.
From youth to adulthood, from adulthood to old age: we see a reflection of the stages of our lives in the colours of each season. And while time relentlessly moves forward, it’s only when we reach autumn that we truly understand the implications of the days that can’t be preserved except in our memories.
I believe there’s no music that’s more timeless than Simon & Garfunkel’s.
Simon and Garfunkel in Rotterdam (1982). Credit: Rob Bogaerts/Anefo/Wikimedia Commons
Their voices and instrumental arrangements feel simultaneously contemporary and primaeval, with lyrics that speak of youth and life but also of the sensitivity and vulnerability of the mind.
Ironically, Simon & Garfunkel’s timeless music highlights the human finitude we so carefully try to ignore, until autumn comes.
Once we learn to accept that we have no control over the passing of time, we discover the beauty hidden within everyday life. Often, this moment of realisation coincides with our most introspective moments.
After that, we see the world in a whole new light.
Despite all the introspection this season evokes, can you think of a time when nature is more beautiful?
Yes, spring might be more joyful with all its brightness and warmth and insects chirping around us, but autumn has a richness in colours and smells that springtime can’t possibly match.
This is the season when the connection between humans and nature is strongest.
The frailty of the landscape manifests itself in the fading colours of the leaves before they fall, and the crisp wind that envelopes us is a premonition of what awaits us. Yet, we experience every joyous moment more vividly simply because we genuinely appreciate its impermanence.
FROM VIVALDI TO TORU TAKEMITSU
Vivaldi (1723). Credit: Unidentified painter/Wikimedia Commons
I’d probably lose my Italian citizenship if I didn’t mention Vivaldi in this autumn music selection.
The complexity of the season also brought to life some of the most iconic classical compositions.
Between 1718 and 1720, the Venetian-born Baroque master recreated the moods of autumn in The Four Seasons, four violin concertos that translated into sounds those seasonal moods we’re all familiar with.
Divided into three parts, Vivaldi’s Autumn is a journey from carelessness and joy to more contemplative atmospheres, with the second movement perfectly representing the crisp mornings of autumn, bringing down the curtain on the warmer seasons once and for all.
The third and final movement translates the approaching winter into sounds, with its higher notes representing the cold winds and the freezing weather.
Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons was, in many ways, revolutionary, starting the era of modern classical composition by using classical instruments to depict natural sounds.
By inducing the audience to feel the music rather than just listening to it, Vivaldi was able to recreate the transience of autumn, possibly for the first time in music history.
Fast forward to modern times, the experimentation of legendary Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu offers an even more vivid representation of the multifaceted characteristics of autumn.
Takemitsu’s importance in blending traditional Japanese instruments and Western classical music is most evident in two of his compositions: November Steps and Autumn.
Toru Takemitsu (1961). Credit: 株式会社新潮社 (Shinchosha Publishing Co, Ltd.)/Wikimedia Commons
While the former is undoubtedly more famous, it’s in Autumn that we feel the traditional shakuhachi and biwa truly merging with the soundscape created by the orchestral timbre.
The complexity and sense of restlessness evoked by Autumn give rise to a sense of closure.
While listeners still hold on to memories of bygone warmer days, the music gradually delves deeper and deeper into daunting soundscapes, gently accompanying them into the cold winter days, the last stop of their journey until the sunrise of the first day of spring.
Cover Image: A Paper Creative
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Writer | Marco Sebastiano Alessi
Marco is an Italian music producer, composer and writer. He’s the founder of Naviar Records, a music community and record label exploring the connection between experimental electronic music and traditional Japanese poetry.