An Autumn Playlist by Music Director Thomas Dausgaard

Seattle Symphony Music Director Thomas Dausgaard shares his favorite autumn music with this specially curated playlist featuring works by Brahms, Mahler, Fanny Mendelssohn, Price, Sibelius and more.

By Thomas Dausgaard

Editor’s Note: Music Director Thomas Dausgaard will be sharing monthly playlists throughout the 2020–2021 season. Featuring his unique blend of passion, intellect and joy, each playlist will introduce you to some of the music he loves as well as his unique approach to curation.

I love the autumn. Outside the colors grow deeper: the trees clearly divide in those preserving their green and those changing colors dramatically. Berries in intense red, black and yellow, and the last flowers, fruits and vegetables appear before the frost. Time to make juices and preserves! We need thicker clothing and we spend more time inside. Time for introspection, reflections, reading — and listening to music!

This year the month of October is unique because it has two full moons: the harvest moon and the hunters moon. The joy of harvest, the excitement of hunting and the fascination with the moon has inspired part of my playlist — as it has inspired many composers, particularly in the romantic period. Other works relate more to the season and its sometimes-somber atmosphere, reminding us of the last part of our life cycle.

Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin, Act I: Peasants’ Chorus and Dance

In the Peasants’ Chorus and Dance from the beginning of Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugen Onegin the successful harvest is being celebrated with ecstatic joy.

Britten: Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, Op. 33a: III. Moonlight

Depicting the forces of nature as they mirror us humans, Britten’s opera Peter Grimes (1945) reaches a sensual climax in my favorite portrayal of “moonlight.”

Schubert: “Erntelied”, D. 434

Schubert’s “Harvest Song” celebrates the joy of outdoor life during harvest and the village dances at night.

Fanny Mendelssohn: Das Jahr, H. 385: 12 Characterstücke: No. 11, November

In contrast to this, Fanny Mendelssohn (sister of Felix) disturbingly conjures up darkness and gloom in the portrait of November. In turn passionate and virtuosic — and with a tempestuous autumn storm in the middle!

J.S. Bach: “Was mir behgat, ist nur die mutre Jagd!”, BWV 208, (“Hunt Cantata”): Aria: “Schafe konnen sicher weiden”

In Bach’s secular “Hunt Cantata,” blissful flutes portray a pastoral — or heavenly — landscape where “Sheep can graze securely where a good shepherd watches.”

Brahms: Hungarian Dances, WoO 1: Nos. 4, 8 & 19

Brahms was surely attracted to the Hungarian Romani style because of its melancholic and joyful expressions. Here are three of my orchestrations on a new album with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra:

  • No. 4 with villagers whistling a dance in the middle
  • No. 8 with the sweeping of a sinister autumnal wind
  • No. 19 with the dancing of drunken villagers

Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde: II. “Der Einsame im Herbst”

Translated as “The lonely man in autumn,” this song from Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde expresses how “the autumn in my heart is lasting too long” and how it provokes a vision of paradise.

Vivaldi: Le quattro stagioni (“The Four Seasons”), Op. 8: L’autunno, (“Autumn”), RV 293

In a very unusual transcription of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons for recorder, I enjoyed enormously making this recording with the Danish recorder star Michala Petri. She improvises mysteriously over the sleepy harmonies of the second movement until the boisterous hunters emerge in the third movement!

Brahms: Intermezzo in B-flat minor, Op. 117, No.  2.

Making music with the wonderful pianist Radu Lupu has been a great experience for me; here he magically brings to life Brahms’ Intermezzo, Op. 117, No. 2 which one of Brahms’ early biographers described as portraying a “man as he stands with the bleak, gusty autumn winds eddying around him”

Mozart: String Quartet No. 17 in B-flat major, K. 458 “The Hunt”: IV. Allegro assai

Though named the “Hunt Quartet” by others than Mozart himself, its lively finale is an exciting chase with imitation of horn calls.

Price: “The Crescent Moon”

The second of Three Short Songs from 1934 by Florence Price throws us into a passionate love scene: a star in love with the moon!

Bartók: Suite No. 1, Op. 3, Sz. 31: IV. Moderato

I am also in love with the early Suite No. 1 by Bartók, here is the fourth movement in a recently released album with my BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. It swings between melancholy, shrill calls and a joyful peasant dance!

Chabrier: Suite pastorale: II. Danse villageoise

Chabrier’s Danse villageoise continues the dancing, now in French! Enjoy the bass line!

Sibelius: Two Pieces from Kuolema, Op. 44: Valse triste, No. 1

The last dance is Finnish, the dark Valse triste by Sibelius, who himself was an enthusiastic dancer of the Finnish tango! From the bass rises the last waltz of a dying woman, ever wilder until a sudden silence announces the arrival of death.

Brahms: Five Songs, Op. 104: V: “Im Herbst”

The deeply moving “Im Herbst” for acapella chorus  by Brahms lays open how the autumn relates to man’s mortality. In its final third verse the music grows in intensity as a “tear glitters in the eye of a man” — a tear of bliss, embracing this unique moment.

Music connects us to something beyond our daily lives, and especially in this time of a pandemic, it is a source which can nurture our soul. We might not know what will come, but we can try to cherish every moment in our life. I hope this playlist will give you many such moments!

You can keep the music playing by giving to the Seattle Symphony Future Fund. Your support — now more than ever — is critical for the musicians who create these treasured moments.

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Posted on October 13, 2020

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