Having grown up a student in the northern hemisphere, September was never a favourite month of mine since it primarily marked the start of a new academic year. This mild dread was exacerbated by all the jolly ‘Back to School’ advertisements, since the experience itself never seemed particularly jolly to me. Knowing that Naxos will soon be presenting its own Back-to-School promotion (a very fine one, of course—don’t miss it) I felt the need for some quality music to pull me out of this episode of negative nostalgia. So I hope you’ll enjoy sharing in the revivifying September-song selection that follows.
Neil Diamond’s September Morn was released in 1979 and proved an instant international hit. The 75 year-old singer-songwriter is still going strong, witness the fact that his 2015 UK tour had to add an extra performance by popular demand. And his songs are still going strong, too. Diamond wrote the lyrics for September Morn, which adapts the original C’est en septembre by the French composer-arranger-singer Gilbert Bécaud (1927–2001). Renowned for his energetic performances, Bécaud was known as ‘Monsieur 100,000 Volts’, although this arrangement by Peter Breiner enjoys a more sedate tone (8.880031).
The opening sentiment of Kurt Weill’s (1900–1950) September Song (8.120572) puts me in mind of that seemingly eternal stretch between the start of the autumn school term and the onset of Christmas delights:
Oh it’s a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn’t got time for the waiting game
Weill wrote September Song for the 1938 Broadway Show Knickerbocker Holiday. Here it is as performed by Sarah Vaughan in the 1940s, accompanied by the Teddy Wilson Quartet.
Next on the turntable stack is a recording by George Shearing. Born in London in 1919, and blind from birth, Shearing trained first as a classical pianist but eventually found his penchant for jazz, moving to America in 1947 where he established his lasting reputation. In 1949 he signed with the MGM label which contributed enormously to this success. One of his first recordings was of September in the Rain (8.120823), a standard that had been written for the movie musical Melody for Two in 1937. The release was a significant hit, showcasing the sophisticated sound of Shearing’s quintet and setting them on the path to widespread fame. This extract from that arrangement features both the distinctive sound and Shearing’s own winning dexterity.
The American composer Charles Ives (1874–1954) wrote some 200 songs, so I’m hazarding a guess that he covered every month and season somewhere along that melodious conveyor-belt. The stylistic development of his songs mirrors that of American music in general, as it turned from the end of the nineteenth century into the first quarter of the twentieth. He wrote September (8.559273) in 1920, so the polytonal arpeggio figures in the piano accompaniment come as no surprise. The lyrics loosely follow an original poem by the Italian poet Folgone de San Gimignano. Here’s a scatter-gun selection of the words that Ives set to music, reflected in the quixotic nature of the vocal line: astors, merlins…sparrowhawks…hounds with bells…arblasts and javelins…finches mean and slight…and Avarice be the only outcast thing. Here is the song performed by tenor Ryan MacPherson and pianist Eric Trudel.
Tchaikovsky’s (1840–1893) The Seasons for solo piano (8.550233) is a slightly misleading title in that it has twelve movements, each devoted to a month of the year, rather than four movements depicting seasonal variations. September in the northern hemisphere marks the onset of autumn and the natural turning of the colour of leaves. Tchaikovsky’s September, however, focuses more vibrantly on portraying the excitement of the countryside chase, with its characteristic hunting horns.
It’s a much more introspective mood that Richard Strauss (1864–1949) sets in his orchestral song, September, the second of his Four Last Songs (8.570283) and a setting of Hermann Hesse’s poem of the same title. In fact it was the last of the four songs to be completed, in 1948; Strauss died the following year. Here’s a translation of the original German text, which deals with September as a seasonal pivot, turning its back on summer. This extract is of the first two stanzas, in the original German:
The garden mourns, Golden falls leaf upon leaf Long still by the roses
cool falls the rain on the flowers. down from the high acacia tree. it stays, yearns for rest.
Summer shudders Summer smiles, amazed and weak, Slowly it closes its great
quietly meeting its end. in the dying garden-dream. Weary eyes.
September in Sweden can be comparatively unpredictable: snow, sun or grey skies might all be the order of the day. Swedish stoicism counters with “there is no bad weather, only bad clothes.” I’ll let that thought hang as we play out with September, the first of 3 Songs for Chorus (8.554631) by the Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871–1927).