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Song Stories: Two Tales of September

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The month of September has received quite a bit of treatment from the likes of Tchaikovsky, Carol King, Green Day, Kurt Weill, and Fanny Mendelssohn. In some cases, the month is depicted with remorse and longing, as if the end of summer has a sense of foreboding. In other cases, there is an excitement about the arrival of cooler weather and a welcome change. For this week’s blog, we are going to examine two songs that exemplify these contrasting approaches, and we will explore how two compositions, while separated by only 30 years, feel like they are generations apart. Of course, I am talking about Richard Strauss, and Earth, Wind, and Fire.

Richard Strauss, half-length portrait, seated, facing right, writing music. [194-?] Photo by Fremdenverkehrsamt München. From the collection Miscellaneous Items in High Demand, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
“September” by Richard Strauss is from his composition that would later become known as Four Last Songs. He composed these songs while in his 80s and living in Switzerland at the end of WWII. Throughout his lifetime, Strauss wrote almost 200 songs, with many of them inspired by his wife, Pauline. She was a successful soprano who performed his work to great acclaim. Three of the four songs in the cycle, including “September”, used poetry written by Herman Hesse. The music represents the mystical nature of the poems, each of which deals with the themes of life slowly fading away to eternal rest.

The text of the first verse of “September” depicts autumn pushing summer out of the way:

Der Garten trauert,
kühl sinkt in die Blumen der Regen.
Der Sommer schauert
still seinem Ende entgegen.

The garden grieves,
The cool rains sink into the flowers,
The summer shudders
And silently meets her end.

Richard Strauss completed Four Last Songs in 1948, shortly after his last professional appearance in Royal Albert Hall. Sadly, he never got to hear these songs performed as a set. In fact, he never intended for the four songs to be linked together, and they were not performed until May 22, 1950—the year after he passed away and nine days after Pauline’s death. “September” and the other three songs lived on through notable performances by Jessye Norman, Phyllis Curtain, and Renee Fleming.

While Strauss’s “September” depicts the end of a long journey, the classic jam by Earth, Wind, and Fire paints a far more optimistic picture. Maurice White’s lyrics declare that on September 21st, “Our hearts were ringing in the key that our souls were singing.” While one would be hard-pressed to confuse these lines with Herman Hesse verses, these words still match the optimism of the music to the same degree that Strauss evoked longing and retirement in Four Last Songs. Clearly, the month of September got treated very differently by these artists: one in the twilight of his career, and the others at the peak of their creativity.

According to bassist Verndine White, Earth, Wind, and Fire recorded “September” in 1978 in one take, almost one year before the song was formally released. This project would turn out to be part of a long string of successes for the ensemble, as they would go on to sell more than 20 million albums over a span of four decades. “September” was recently added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress, and in 2019, Earth, Wind, and Fire was the first R & B group to receive recognition at the Kennedy Center Honors.

Both “September” songs were used in movie soundtracks. The Strauss version underscored the soundtrack to the 1982 film The Year of Living Dangerously, and the EWF “September” was featured in the 2006 movie Night at the Museum and more recently in the 2016 motion picture Trolls (covered by Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick).

So whether you are “dancing in September,” or “longing for a rest,” please enjoy these selections from the NLS music section that relate to this blog. To borrow any materials, you can download them from BARD, call us at 1-800-424-8567, extension 2, or email us at [email protected]. You can visit our website at any time to learn more about the services that NLS provides.


Audio Books

Spitz, Marc. Nobody Likes You : Inside the Turbulent Life, Times, and Music of Green Day. Marc Spitz interviews the members of the punk rock band Green Day–guitarist and singer Billie Joe Armstrong, bass player Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tre Cool. Includes discussion of the songs “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Wake me up When September Ends.” Covers the band’s emergence on the music scene, its downward spiral, and its resurgence. (DB 65757)

Weill, Kurt. “September Song” from Popular Music Lead Sheets no. 15. Includes five songs with lyrics, vocal part, partial acc. (right hand), and chord symbols dictated. The music is not performed. (DBM01287)

Whorf, Mike. And the Days Grow Short as you Reach September. Remembrances of autumn – the first frost, changing leaves, and the first day of school – interlaced with music. (DBM00932)

The Musical Maverick : the Music of Kurt Weill. Varied career of Kurt Weill, composer of such operas as Threepenny Opera and Mahagonny and such popular songs as “Mack the Knife” and “September Song.” His collaborators Ira Gershwin, Langston Hughes, and Ogden Nash tell their stories about his work in America. (DBM00611)

Braille music

Brackett, David. The Pop, Rock, and Soul Reader : Histories and Debates. David Brackett brings together more than 100 readings from a diverse range of sources and by writers who have played an integral part in the development of popular music criticism. (BRM35991)

Carol King : Deluxe Anthology. Includes “It Might as Well Rain until September.” Includes words, melody, and chords in line by line format. (BRM36388)

Driggs, Collins. Music of Today. Includes “See You in September”. For 4-chord organ in bar over bar format. (BRM18425)

Fauré, Gabriel. Dans la Forêt de Septembre, op. 85, no. 1. “In the September forest” by Fauré for voice and piano in line by line and bar over bar formats. (BRM36489)

Strauss, Richard. September. From the song cycle Four Last Songs. For high voice and piano in line by line and bar over bar formats. (BRM17826)

–Vier letzte Lieder : for high voice and piano. Four Last Songs. Orchestral accompaniment arranged for piano in line by line and bar over bar formats. Includes English and German text. (BRM27045)

Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilich. The Seasons, op. 37. Includes “September.” For piano in bar over bar format.

Large Print

Hensel, Fanny Mendelssohn. Songs for pianoforte, 1836-1837. (LPM00722)

September and Nostalgic Songs. Includes “September Song.” (LPM00343)

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