The harvest, falling leaves, the first days of Autumn, we celebrate it all on this week's Ether Game with a show called Pumpkin Spice. Jump into a musical pile of leaves with our autumnal playlist below.
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) The Seasons, Hob. XXI:3: Der Herbst [Autumn] The changing seasons have always been a source of inspiration for artists: there are countless cycles of paintings and frescoes, poems and odes. The inspiration for Haydn’s oratorio came from the four-part poetic cycle The Seasons by Scottish poet James Thomson, which were immensely popular around Europe in translation. Thomson’s poems were adapted into a libretto by Baron Gottfried van Swieten, a patron to Mozart and Beethoven, who also wrote the libretto to Haydn’s earlier work The Creation. Like the Creation, this work was intended to be performed in both English and German. Van Swieten used a German translation of Thomson’s poems for the German version. But for the English version, instead of using Thomson’s original text, van Swieten decided to translate it himself. Van Swieten’s grasp of English was lacking, so the English version is seldom performed today.
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) Album for the Young, Op. 68, Harvest Song, The Reaper's Song, Rustic Song These pieces come from Schumann’s piano work Album for the Young, a set of 43 pieces mostly intended to be played by young performers. Schumann wrote this work for his three young daughters—in fact, Schumann composed a number of works with children in mind, whether it be music meant to be performed by children, or simple piano sketches on themes from childhood. Since the Album of for the Young was expected to be published around Christmas, the German painter Ludwig Richter was commissioned to create a highly decorative cover for the work. Being well known for his fairy tale illustrations, Richter’s cover design features extravagant foliage and children enjoying music in a pastoral setting. The collection may seem quaint in comparison to much of Schumann’s piano music, but we know from his letters that The Album for the Young was especially dear to him, and in his own words made him feel “as if he was beginning to compose again at the very beginning.”
Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953) Prokofiev: Cinderella, Op.87, 15. Autumn Fairy, 16. Winter Fairy There is a long tradition of Russian composers adapting fairy tales for the stage. Prokofiev elaborates the well-known Cinderella into a grand ballet with lush orchestration and a large ensemble of characters. In Prokofiev’s version, which is a setting of an adaptation by Nikolai Volkov, Cinderella’s fairy godmother summons four additional fairies, each representing one of the four seasons. Together they magic Cinderella her dress, coach and glass slippers as each season performs a dance. Prokofiev’s work on this ballet was interrupted by the German invasion during World War 2 and the composer was evacuated with many of Russia’s distinguished artists. He did not return to Cinderella until after he had completed his own musical protest of the war, AN opera based on Tolstoy's War and Peace. Despite its composition during tumultuous times, Cinderella remains Prokofiev’s most popular work to-date.
Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) Feste romane [Roman Festivals] Autumn Harvest Festival Ottorino Respighi has the distinction of being the first Italian composer of the early 20th century to make a name for himself by breaking the operatic stereotype and composing purely orchestral music. He is best known for the three Rome-inspired tone poems: Fountains of Rome, Pines of Rome, and the longest and most technically challenging: Roman Festivals. After experiencing musical depictions of the Roman circus and christian Jubilee festival, the listener is transported to the October harvest by a rousing French horn solo in the style of the hunting horn. Towards the end of the movement, the celebration shifts to a dreamy love serenade. Respighi combines the sound of bells with an instrument found more often in Italian opera orchestras than in the concert hall: the mandolin. Another obscure Italian instrument is called for in this work as well, an ancient Roman military trumpet called the buccina.
Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847) Das Jahr: 'October' Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel was a prolific composer in private, but her conservative family and the constraints of her historical era discouraged her from publishing until the end of her life. “The Year,” a suite for solo piano, remained unpublished during her lifetime. Even so, the suit is a more forward-thinking piece of music, with similarities to the style of Liszt and Schumann, than anything her more famous brother Felix Mendelssohn composed. Consisting of a movement for each month, plus a postlude, “The Year” is a music diary that reflects on Fanny’s year of travel in Italy with her husband and son. October features a lively march. If you were to listen to this movement in the context of the whole piece, you would hear that it is a call back to the opening march of das Jahr: a real time moment where Fanny recalls the initial excitement of travel.
Percy Grainger (1882-1961) Harvest Hymn The self-proclaimed ninth best composer of all time, Percy Grainger lived a cosmopolitan life: born in Australia, studying in Germany, making a name for himself in England, and then working professionally in the United States. His “Harvest Hymn” began its life in 1905 under the title “Hymny Tune,” while Grainger was living in London. He had written only the first 17 bars, and then put it away for nearly 30 years. He completed it in 1932 while visiting Sweden. In typical Grainger fashion, he said the tune had an optional vocal part, which could be sung with “‘la’ ‘la’ or any other suitable meaningless syllable to each note. If you don’t like meaningless syllables, make up your own text.” As far as we can tell, no one has taken up the challenge.
Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) In Autumn, Op. 11 Grieg's In Autumn is a concert overture, a type of orchestral piece that became extremely popular in the 19th century. Rather than a prelude to a stage production, the concert overture makes reference to a literary work, and can be programmed anywhere in a concert. When Grieg composed his own concert overture, he showed it to his teacher Niels Gade, who said “This is trash, go home and write something better.” Grieg re-scored In Autumn as a PIANO DUET, and sent it to a competition at the Swedish Academy where Gade was a judge. Gade must have thought the revisions an improvement, Grieg was awarded first prize. It was many years before the piece was heard in its original instrumentation, for the embarrassed Grieg had written at the top of the manuscript that it was never to be performed.
John Estacio (b.1966) A Farmer's Symphony: III. The Harvesters Contemporary Canadian composer John Estacio was born in 1966 in Newmarket, Ontario. He grew up in a farming community, where he studied accordion and piano, and played the organ for a local church every Sunday. From 1992 until 2000, Estacio served as composer in residence of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, for whom he wrote this piece, A Farmer’s Symphony, among many others. Estacio has been commissioned to write pieces for major symphony orchestras all over Canada, including the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and the Manitoba Chamber Players. His most recent major work was a ballet, based on the tale of King Arthur’s Camelot, which was premiered by the Cincinnati Ballet in 2014.
Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth Shine on Harvest Moon While this harvest song is not quite as old as Haydn or Schumann, it still is fairly old. “Shine On, Harvest Moon” is, in fact, older than sliced bread—twenty years older, to be precise. The song premiered in 1908 in the vaudeville show the Ziegfeld Follies, written and performed by the vaudeville team of Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth (although some historians credit it to other Tin Pan Alley composers like Edward Madden, Gus Edwards, or Dave Stamper). Bayes and Norworth were immensely popular in the early twentieth century and their stamp on popular culture can still be felt today. Norworth also wrote the lyrics to the perennial favorite “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” (despite having never seen a baseball game when he wrote it), and Bayes premiered the famous World War I anthem “Over There” by George M. Cohan.