A “Year of Wonder”-Ful Classical Music: September

Ah, September! You are the doorway to the season that awakens my soul…” — Peggy Toney Horton

September is a month of transitions. Summer changes to fall, vacation is exchanged for school and work, and the days of picnics and barbecues fade away, replaced with brisk walks and warm fires. The following five pieces seem to embody these transitions for me, and I hope they will sweep you along into a new season as well!

1) “Gnossienne no. 1,” by Erik Satie

What’s the first thing you think of when someone mentions fall? Perhaps the most obvious choice is falling leaves! I’ve heard this piece many times before, but this was my first time listening to it with an autumnal mindset, and as the piano notes dripped into my head, what should I picture but the swaying dance of a leaf dropping down in early September?

2) “Sonata duodecima,” by Isabella Leonarda

Another beautiful piece, this time from an Ursuline nun! Medieval Italian music has such a distinct haunting sound, and that’s why I love it (maybe it goes back to my childhood love of Vivaldi)! The mystery of this music is why I think it’s so appropriate for that transition between summer and fall. Author Clemency Burton-Hill explains in Year of Wonder that for the majority of history, the only way for people to experience music was to hear it performed live. As I pressed play on my iPhone playlist, I realized how utterly spoiled we are. Hearing something like this in person back in the day had to be a moving experience.

3) Che si puo fare–What am I to do?, by Barbara Strozzi

More from Renaissance Italy and another female composer! There is a strong strain of longing and wistfulness as the singer asks heaven to soothe her sorrows. Who else could convey such emotion with such simplicity except a woman? Brava Barbara!

4) “Autumn Crocus,” by Billy Mayerl

This piece was written by an English composer and piano virtuoso who chose to buck the system of his classical music education. Much to the chagrin of his traditionally-minded tutors, he embraced the sounds of American ragtime and later performed pieces like Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. This was such a relaxing listen. Jazz has a way of doing that for me, and I don’t know about you, but falling leaves, a hot cup of tea, a good book, and some jazz like this make for a perfect autumn afternoon.

5) ‘ Au fond du temple saint ‘–‘ At the back of the holy temple ‘ from The Pearl Fishers, by Georges Bizet

Again! Another piece I’ve heard a million times, yet had no clue that it came from an opera! The backstory to this one is actually quite unique. Two friends are both in love with the same girl, and this duet expresses the tension of the love triangle, along with their desire to still remain friends. Packed with emotion and feeling, this is an opera piece that I can get behind!

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