Playlist: Classical Music for an Abundant Autumn, Selected by WFMT

By Keegan Morris |

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Autumn in North America (Frederic Edwin Church, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

In the gap between a languid summer and a long winter, there's just enough room left for fall. It's a season for transformation, comfort, reflection, and growth. In other words, it's the perfect time to grab some cider, take in that brilliant fall foliage, and enjoy this playlist created for you by WFMT staff and hosts!

Richard Strauss: "Allerseelen"

In spite of, or perhaps because of, the feelings of nostalgia and melancholy autumn inspires in me, it’s my favorite season. “Allerseelen” by Richard Strauss, with the text by Hermann von Gilm, evokes the feeling of autumn, as it marks All Souls Day, November 1. The All Souls Day tradition is to remember the departed. The singer in Strauss’ song seems to be rekindle a lost sense of love. — George Preston, general manager

Kurt Weill: "Speak Low" from One Touch of Venus

This is a poignant love song, one of whose lines is “Our summer day dwindles away, too soon, too soon.” All about the fleetingness of romance. Anyone familiar with the whimsical verses of Ogden Nash may be surprised to learn that he wrote the tender lyrics of this tender song. Andi Lamoreaux, music director

Jennifer Higdon: Autumn Reflection

American composer Jennifer Higdon’s music has an open, direct quality that immediately speaks to the listener. In just a few minutes, Autumn Reflection for flute and piano expresses the conflicting moods of the season: the melancholy we feel as the warmth of summer fades away mixed with the joyful wonder of the vibrant colors this time of year. Lisa Flynn, program host

Silvestre Revueltas: "The Desert" from Música Para Charlar

In his 1954 book God’s Country and Mine, French-American cultural historian Jacques Barzun wrote, “[t]he way to see America is from a lower berth about two in the morning.” I’m just presumptuous enough to add that fall is my favorite time to travel: fewer tourists, more authentic adventures. And what better soundtrack than Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas' "Música para Charlar," or "Music for Chatting?" For the work, the composer used themes from his score for the 1938 film “The Railroads of Baja California.” The second movement, titled “The Desert,” is a musical travelogue: cactus, twilight, sand and water, tractors, and finally, a Hymn to the Home Land.Candice Agree, program host and radio producer

John Alden Carpenter: "The Lake" from Adventures in a Perambulator

Ah, what to pick for autumn? Something about the weather changing? A chamber version of Autumn Leaves? Textures that evoke crunchy leaves? A piece about the rain? I wanted to put Salina Fisher’s Rainphase in here for evoking a dreary Wellington autumn, but it hasn’t made it to Spotify yet (it is, however, on YouTube).

I did settle on something from the outdoors: a gentle cooling breeze by "The Lake," an episode from John Alden Carpenter’s Adventures in a Perambulator. The composer imagined a baby’s thoughts: "I feel the quiver of the little waves as they escape from the big ones and come rushing up over the sand." My best guess is that Carpenter, a lifelong Chicagoan, was writing about Lake Michigan. Attention Chicagoans: it’s not long before the lakeshore climate becomes inhospitable, so make the most of it this autumn while you can. — Robbie Ellis, announcer

Richard Strauss: "September" from Four Last Songs

"September," the second of Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs, delivers the most bittersweet farewell to summer. Strauss wrote the set — his last — in 1947, setting his music to text by Hermann Hesse. The combination is profound, full of emotion, and just plain gorgeous.

Jessye Norman's 1983 recording, with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under the direction of Kurt Masur, evokes the pang and acceptance of the changing seasons, the reluctant fade of love and warm days and long, late evenings, and of life itself.  When she sings “Der Sommer schauert, Still seinem Ende entgegen.” – or “The summer is shuddering Silently towards its end.” – the word “sommer” extends so long, and so optimistically, one feels it will last forever while knowing at the same time it is time to let go. Louise Frank, producer

John Rutter: "Magnificat anima mea Dominum"

Friedrich Nietzsche said, "I notice that Autumn is more the season of the soul than of nature."  John Rutter’s setting of the opening line of the ancient text, "Magnificat anima mea Dominum" ("My soul magnifies the Lord") provides a magnificent backdrop for Fall season glories. — Dennis Moore, program host

Charles Ives: The Unanswered Question

As the temperatures cool, and the leaves turn their jeweled hues, it is apparent that autumn is a time of change and thus presents the ideal moment for contemplation. The Unanswered Question by Charles Ives invites us to do just that. Written in 1908 as part of Two Contemplations, the piece begins with the trumpet posing "The Perennial Question of Existence" against the triads of the slowly sustaining strings. The woodwinds enter trying to discourage our attempt to answer with their atonal mockery, but they just give up and cease to sound. The trumpet presents the question one final time until the piece fades, leaving silence in "Undisturbed Solitude." We might think that attempting, like the woodwinds do, to answer an unanswerable question is futile, but as autumn reminds us, the pursuit can lead to transformation. — Mary Mazurek, audio engineer

William Bolcom: Three Ghost Rags

Halloween is creeping around the corner. As someone who adores ragtime music and horror movies, William Bolcom's Three Ghost Rags sets the stage for a picturesque gloomy autumn day. Imagine, a graceful ghost roaming as melancholically as the last leaves from the trees falling lightly to the ground. For everyone that is a fan of Casper the Friendly Ghost, Ghostbusters, Patrick Swayze in Ghost, and over-using the ghost emoji, I recommend taking a listen to these Ghost Rags. — Becky Nystedt, production coordinator

Ralph Vaughan Williams: "Linden Lea"

Next week, I'm going to walk England looking for Linden Lea. To quote the Ralph Vaughan Williams song's text by William Barnes, all I can say is:

"Now do quiver underfoot...
With fruit for me, the apple tree 
Do lean down low in Linden Lea..."

Cydne Gillard, producer

Henry Purcell: "Dido's Lament" from Dido and Aeneas

The opening bars of my fall music choice cascade slowly downward like gently drifting autumn leaves. "Dido's Lament" from Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas evokes the inevitable cycle of life as surely as the decreasing temperatures and low, slanted golden light after the Autumnal Equinox has passed. Purcell's opera was performed at Josias Priest's Girls School in London at the end of the year in 1689 and I have often imagined perhaps the first frost appearing upon the windowpanes at the time of its first hearing. And I am obsessed with the poignant interpretation by Malena Ernman, mother of Greta Thunberg! — Maggie Clennon Reberg, program host

Johannes Brahms: Variations on a theme by Haydn

For me, fall is football marching band season! As a Northwestern University "Wildcat" Marching Band alum, the school's alma mater will always be a tune that I hum this time of year. Though the NU alma mater is more chorale-like in its setting, the melody comes from this selection from Johannes Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Haydn. I can’t help but think "Hail to thee Northwestern!" at the end of the theme. — Michael San Gabino, radio producer

David Maslanka: Moderate from Sonata for Oboe and Piano

The late composer described in his sonata for oboe and piano "a quality of being swept up and swept along." To me, this encapsulates the autumn: you have the awe-inspiring transformation in the natural world, but then too, you have the certainty of winter not far away. The piece's early jubilance, peaking around the three-minute mark, embodies this sense of wonderment, inspiring the same feeling as stepping on the first crunchy leaf of the season. Then, everything becomes still, as if in preparation for a long winter. — Keegan Morris, multimedia producer

Enjoy the full playlist!

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