Editor, McLerran Journal
Assistant Band Director, Center ISD, TX
For most cultures, autumn is synonymous with a time for harvesting crops, bright color changes in nature, and celebrations. In this article, we’ll explore four different musical interpretations of the season from four completely different countries.
Japan: Toru Takemitsu “In an Autumn Garden”
Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) was a Japanese composer best known for his ability to combine elements of Western music with Eastern instruments. In his career, he composed over twenty concertos and more than ninety film scores in addition to works for voice, orchestra, and chamber ensembles. Besides brief studies with the composer Yasuji Kiyose, Takemitsu was famously self-taught. His music was influenced by Claude Debussy, George Gershwin, Oliver Messiaen, and the Japanese formal garden (Britannica). Takemitsu’s most famous works include Requiem for Strings (1957), November Steps (1967), A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden (1978), and Tree Line (1988). He was presented with the Gravemeyer Award in 1994 and the Glenn Gould Prize in 1996.
Japan is an archipelago comprised of four large islands (and several thousand smaller islands) located off of the eastern coast of Asia. The country is made up of more than 18,000 miles of coastline and has an estimated population of 127 million people (2013, World Atlas). Tokyo, the capital of Japan, is “the world’s most populous metropolis” with more than 13 million residents. The city is characterized by numerous museums, historic temples, gardens, and fine dining. Fall celebrations include the Takayama (Hachiman) Festival, Nagasaki Kunchi Festival, and the Jidai Matsuri (Japan Guide).
In an Autumn Garden (1973), is a haunting classical composition for gagaku ensemble. Gagaku, which translates to “elegant music,” stems from music traditionally performed for celebrations and rituals of the Imperial court. The ensembles include woodwind instruments (sho, hichiriki, ryuteki), string instruments (koto and biwa), drums (kakko and taiko), and a bronze gong (shoko). Gagaku music is traditionally performed in intimate settings by a small group (between sixteen and thirty) of musicians.
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(Northeast) Guinea: “Kassa (The Harvest Dance)”
Guinea (also called Guinea-Conakry), located in Northeastern Africa, is a relatively new country with a population of approximately eleven million people (World Atlas). Guinea is made up of a diverse topography that includes the coast, mountains, jungle, savannah, and the source of the Niger River (the third longest river in Africa). The coolest months in Guinea are June-September with average lows of 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Autumn in Guinea is characterized by constant rainfall and celebrations of festivals like Tabaski.
The Malinke (or Mande) culture in Guinea originated in the Mali Empire in the 13th century (Every Culture). Currently there are an estimated 1.5 million Malinke living between the Gambia River and the Ivory Coast. The traditional Kassa, or “harvest dance,” is performed annually by the Malinke people in Guinea to “support workers in the field” (Nas). At the completion of the harvest, a large party, or Kassalodon, is held inside the village.
English translation of the lyrics (Paul Nas):
Wake up farmer, the meal has arrived,
Wake up farmer, the meal is here.
The men of Hamana, the birds of Mandin,
My brother, I call you to work on the field.
It is my profession, it’s the best work!
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Norway: Edvard Grieg “In Autumn, Op. 11”
Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) was a Norwegian composer remembered for his contributions to folk music, nationalism, and co-founding the Copenhagen Concert Society Euterpe (Britannica). Grieg began studying piano from his mother, Gesine Hagerup, at the age of only six and was accepted into the Leipzig Conservatory nine years later. His most famous works include Lyric Pieces (1867), Peer Gynt, Op. 23 (1876), and Holberg, Op. 40 (1884).
According to World Atlas, Norway is “one of Europe’s most mountainous countries” with a population of nearly five million people. The rugged terrain ranges from ancient glaciers to heavily forested valleys and includes more than 150,000 lakes. In the fall, Norwegians enjoy seasonal treats like apple pies, plum desserts, and Fårikål (mutton in cabbage). Countless autumn festivals include the Bjornson Festival (Molde and Nesset), Nuart Festival, and Sirdalsdagene (Sirdal).
In Autumn, Op. 11 (1865) is a single-movement composition for orchestra in the key of D minor. The work was completed during Grieg’s time in Copenhagen, where he studied with the Norweigian nationalist composer Rikard Nordraak. Throughout the piece, triumphant march-like figures in the brass and aggressive pizzicato in the strings are juxtaposed with gentle floating melodic lines in the woodwinds; perhaps to characterize the many different colors and textures of the fall season.
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United States: “October” Eric Whitacre
Eric Whitacre (b.1970) is an American composer and conductor known for his technological innovations and charisma. A graduate of the Juilliard School of Music, Whitacre has served as the Composer in Residence at Sidney Sussex College (Cambridge University, UK), Artist in Residence with the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and Director of the Eric Whitacre Singers. He has also had the opportunity to appear as a guest-conductor for the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Minnestoa Orchestra. In 2012, Whitacre was awarded the “Best Choral Performance” Grammy Award for his composition Light and Gold (2010).
The United States of America is one of the largest countries in the world with a population of nearly 317,000,000 (2013, World Atlas). Spanning more than 3,000,000 square miles, the country includes scenic locations like the Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountains, Great Plains, and over 12,000 miles of coastline (World Atlas). The United States is comprised of fifty individual states and has no official language. Autumn in the U.S. is characterized by cooler temperatures and celebrations of harvest-related holidays like Thanksgiving (November).
October (2000) was commissioned by a combination of thirty different high school band programs in Nebraska (U.S.). About the work, Whitacre stated that the goal of the piece was to embody “the natural and pastoral soul of the [fall] season.” October is dedicated to Brian Anderson (Fremont, Nebraska), the director who initiated talks of a commission.
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Image: Marina McLerran, Stephen F. Austin State University, 2012.
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