Autumn has a rich musical and literary tradition. Keats, Hardy, and Robert Frost wrote poems about it. Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, and Strauss serenaded it in music.
But poems about fall aren’t all museum pieces. Some of the best songs about Autumn are modern. Here’s a list that looks at the many varied musical representations of Autumn in its glorious color.
“Song to Autumn” by Christopher Maltman
Sometimes called “Herbstlied” and sung in German, Sir Edward Elgar originally wrote his “Song to Autumn” in English. From the opening notes, this is a vividly nostalgic piece about the autumn garlands the older speaker and a young girl used to make together.
Despite never mentioning Autumn by name after the title, the browned and serene landscapes of the lyrics are evocative of wet, English autumns.
“Autumn Leaves” by Nat King Cole
We move from classical to crooning as Nat King Cole sings about “Autumn Leaves.” Lots of people have tackled this song, including:
- Bing Crosby
- Doris Day
- Frank Sinatra
In Cole’s hands, those floating leaves paint an intimate, melancholy picture of love and longing.
“Try to Remember the Kind of September” by The Brothers Four
“Try to Remember”began as part of the Broadway musical The Fantasticks. Musical and song met particular popularity in Australia in 1968.
It’s a sentimental song about Autumn that romanticizes not only a season but a golden, far-distant past. As the music waxes indulgent about the golden Septembers of the past, it also remembers the speaker as he was, young and in love and full of hope for a future that went unrealized.
“Autumn in New York” by Ella Fitzgerald
The languid, slow tempo of this autumn song uses word painting to illustrate the way life slows down as the days shorten and the seasons change.
Both Fitzgerald and Armstrong sing with rich, warm tonality that perfectly contrasts the chill of fall. It hints at fires and cozy autumn evenings at home while adding to the overall nostalgia of the music.
“Autumn Serenade” by John Coltrane
In this song about Autumn, Coltrane turns the season jazzy. The tempo has the same slow intimacy as other entries on this list, but the piano chord progressions are brisk as fall winds.
When the brass takes over and starts improvising, that tempo keeps moving. It’s fun, fast-paced, and evocative of Autumn in all its changeable moods.
“Harvest Moon” by Neil Young
Songs don’t have to have Autumn in the title to evoke the season. Harvest moons have a long association with fall.
Young wrote the song for his wife, and since then, it’s moved from the personal to the public sphere with starring roles in television and movies. These have included:
- Big Little Lies
- The Quiet Place
- Eat, Pray Love
“All Souls Night” by Loreena McKennitt
This is another autumn song that flirts with the season without mentioning it by name. All Souls Night is the lesser cousin to Hallow E’en and falls on November 2. For many church-goers, it’s a day of solemn requiems, but McKennitt taps into the pagan history of the holiday.
Her unsettling use of synthesizers and off-beets creates an eerie atmosphere that reminds listeners that as the days grow colder, old superstitions had the dead and ghosts wandering their graveyards at All Souls. No wonder so many started saying those requiems to keep them at bay.
“Leaves that Are Green” by Simon and Garfunkel
We’ve had classical, jazz, and now we turn to folk music for another song about Autumn. Here again, nostalgia is a prominent theme. Autumn never comes up directly, but it’s implicit in the lyrics that talk about the changing leaves.
It’s bittersweet, has a tessitura comfortable for casual singers, and features a memorable melody. Perfect for autumn evenings at home.
“November Rain” by Guns ‘n Roses
So far, we’ve talked about love songs that dovetail with autumn and autumn songs about nostalgia. “November Rain”stands out as being about a break-up. The natural bleakness of autumn pairs neatly with the melancholy of lost love.
The song takes inspiration from the short story Without You by Del James.
“Pussywillows, Cat-tails, Soft Winds and Roses” by Gordon Lightfoot
Gordon Lightfoot’s “Pussywillows, Cat-tails” gives you four seasons for the price of one. Always poetic, Lightfoot’s lyrics paint vivid images of each season. Never is this more true than in the verse devoted to fall, where harvest, new love, and wheat imagery mix.
“Maple Leaf Rag” by Scott Joplin
Another song that isn’t strictly a song of Autumn, per se. But few things conjure the changing seasons as readily as scarlet and yellow maple leaves. This rag-time piece with its swung eighth notes is a tribute to those brilliant leaves.
Stick it on and think of New England in the fall.
“The Four Seasons: Autumn” by Budapest Strings
No list of autumn songs would be complete without mentioning Antonio Vivaldi’s famous suite to the four seasons. “Spring” is the most famous of these compositions, but it’s only one of four moving parts.
Vivaldi’s music uses classical harmonies to capture the pensive spirit of Autumn, speeding up occasionally to suggest blustery autumn winds.
“Folk Songs Four Seasons: Autumn” by Genti
Vivaldi wasn’t the only classical composer inspired by Autumn. In “Folk Songs Four Seasons,” Ralph Vaughn Williams combines several classic English melodies for women’s voices.
The autumn selection includes:
- “John Barleycorn”
- “The Unquiet Grave”
- “An Acre of Land”
It’s spritely and quixotic, in contrast to some of the slower pieces on this list. Strings and piano play jaunty chords underneath the melody to keep the tempo moving.
However, there are also slower, more legato melodies floated by the sopranos that capture the lassitude of late Autumn.
“Autumn Moon Over the Calm Lake” by Lang Lang
Lu Wencheng wrote “Autumn Moon Over the Calm Lake” in 1930. The piano composition came about after Wencheng visited a lake in Hangzhou.
Moved by its beauty, he wrote “Autumn Moon Over a Calm Lake.” Lyrical and mellifluous, many consider it the best example of Wencheng’s compositional skill there is.
“Four Strong Winds” by Ian & Sylvia
Written and sung by Ian Tyson and his wife, Sylvia, “Four Strong Winds”is another autumn song that works its way through several seasons.
It’s a Canadian classic, and while the imagery of all four seasons is striking, the melancholy folk song makes it well-suited for chilly autumn evenings. Especially when the wind is rattling against the windows. It’s lyrical, atmospheric, and the perfect song to sing around a campfire.
“Bringing in the Sheaves” by Jim Hendrix
We’ve explored various autumn genres across many different genres on this list. One thing we haven’t looked at is the strong tradition of harvest hymns.
“Bringing in the Sheaves”is an excellent example of this kind of autumn song. It’s full of harvest imagery, from sowing to reaping. There’s an undeniable allegory in the lyrics, but there’s no denying most churches trot this hymn out in Autumn, especially for Harvest Festival.
There’s nothing like singing about gathering the harvest while looking at golden ears of corn to make you feel Autumn is here.
“Sweater Weather” by The Neighborhood
Keats thought fall was a season of ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness,’ and Robert Frost made it famous for its apples.
Still, few things say fall as readily as a comfy sweater. It’s the time of year when the weather chills, and you can’t help but start reaching for extra layers.
“Autumn Town Leaves” by Iron and Wine
“Autumn Town Winds”has a lot in common with “Four Strong Winds.” Both are ideal camping trip songs. Both grapple with the struggle of love in all seasons. Additionally, they are written and composed by a singer-songwriter artistic combo.
We love the sparse musical structure of this song because it perfectly renders those increasingly-exposed tree branches that come with Autumn. It also conveys a poignant message about how when things are supposed to work out, they do. Sometimes the struggle and the cold snaps are worth it.
“Harvest Fair” by Summer and Salt
Summer and Salt wrote “Harvest Fair”quickly, with an astonishing turn-around time of two months in production. The title makes it sound like this is an autumn song to tuck next to “Bringing in the Sheaves”on the Harvest Festival hymn list.
Instead, “Harvest Fair”uses its autumn imagery to paint a picture of unrequited love. As the song goes on, the speaker struggles to move on from a lost love. It’s moving, evocative, and a bit somber.
“When Fall Comes to New England” by Cheryl Wheeler
Some places come alive in Autumn. Canada’s blaze of autumnal fire is distinctive, especially next to the dreary, wet weather associated with a British fall.
New England is another part of the world that becomes a vibrant burst of color in Autumn, and Cheryl Wheeler’s “When Fall Comes to New England” is a tribute to that.
The lyrics are full of references to not just the glorious leaf colors, but the varied wildlife and crisp, windy weather.
“September” by Earth, Air, Wind, and Fire
“September” stands out as one of the happiest songs about Autumn there is. And it’s not without cause. Autumn is a vibrant season, despite the perceived decay that comes with it.
Earth, Air, Wind, and Fire emphasize the unadulterated pleasure of young, reciprocal love. It’s a love that starts in the fall and matures as the seasons change.
But because love comes in the fall, Autumn takes an understandable pride of place in the seasons the singers work their way through.
The song reminds listeners that change is sometimes as rewarding as it can be frightening. It’s an excellent listen, too.
“Wake Me Up When September Ends” by Green Day
The title of this autumn-themed song always makes us smile because as the days shorten, our instinct is to burrow under the covers and sleep through the cold weather.
But there’s a lot more behind the title of this song. “Wake Me Up When September Ends” came about after Green Day’s lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong lost his father. Indeed, the song is as much a tribute to him as it is to fall.
Surprisingly, this song isn't part of its album's overarching story. Instead, it encapsulates the poignancy of lost youth and passing time. The metaphor throughout is of a summer ending, and it’s a beautiful homage from child to parent.
The mournful tonality and reflective tone make it a perfect autumn song.
“Pale September” by Fiona Apple
“Pale September”features on Fiona Apple’s album Tidal. As with “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” it charts the artist’s feelings of grief and loss.
However, instead of focusing on the shift from verdant summer to dreary fall, Apple filters her grief through a year’s worth of seasons. Of these, Autumn is the most prominent. The fact that the loveliness of fall dresses up the decay of the summer flowers makes it particularly well-suited to these reflections.
But even as she dwells on the nature of grief, “Pale September” blossoms and becomes a memorable love song that showcases Apple at her best. Autumn beauty might dress up death, the music seems to say, but that doesn’t mean loveliness can’t grow out of the mulch it leaves behind.
“Four Last Songs: September” by Lisa Della Casa
Strauss was an expert at writing for female voices, and this part of his cycle “Four Last Songs” is no exception.
It’s popularly believed that Strauss wrote the “Last Songs”as a grace note to his career and perhaps his life. All the last songs circle death, giving the title a double meaning, and “September” is no exception.
In “September,” Strauss uses the changing season as a metaphor for death. Despite this, it’s an optimistic piece, with beautiful, soaring notes ideal for a high voice. Underlying themes of death and loss is a solo for the instrument his father played, the French horn.
It’s not the obvious song to listen to, but we think it’s one of the best songs about Autumn there is. Here, Lisa Della Casa sings it beautifully.
“Comes Autumn Time” by Colin Andrews
Where better to end this list of the best songs for Autumn than with a show-stopping organ piece?
“Comes Autumn Time”was written by Leo Sowerby. It’s part of a concert overture that Sowerby initially intended for organ, and as you listen, you hear the overworked organist literally pulling out all the stops.
The piece takes its inspiration from a poem by Bliss Carman, aptly named “Autumn.”
Despite Sowerby’s original composition for organ in 1916, the piece was so popular that he revised it and fleshed it out with a more expansive orchestral part.
To recognize Bliss Carmen’s contribution to the music, Sowerby insisted that all programs featuring his overture also print a copy of Carmen’s poem, a tradition that persists today.
Listen to the way the music moves from an exuberant start that suggests tumbling breezes and vibrant life to a more ponderous middle section. It’s a bombastic piece that does Carmen’s poem justice and renders fall in all of its variations.
Top Songs About Autumn, Conclusion
From Vivaldi to Green Day, everyone has something to say about fall. And while some themes resurface, like love or loss, no musician tells the same story the same way.
The best songs about Autumn are as changeable as the season, and we hope this list captures that impression. Autumn is a season that’s sometimes melancholy, sometimes beautiful, and always moving. Just like music.