By Patrick Summers
HGO Artistic and Music Director
There is a joyous piece of perfection called “September Song,” by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson, from their 1938 musical Knickerbocker Holiday. The music allegorizes the Roosevelt administration, and a light-hearted show it is, now quite forgotten. Seeing or hearing it now, you’d never imagine that the calamity of World War II was about to tear through the world. “September Song” equates the 12 months of the year with a lifetime; the ninth month, as the start of autumn, represents full maturity as well as the first melancholy glimpses of mortality.
The song wasn’t popular until 1950, when it was featured in a scene of a film called September Affair, and the song perfectly caught the mood of a world settling into lives that had been so savagely interrupted by the war. Many popular songs of those years reflected the relief of settling into the normalcy of postwar life: “Sentimental Journey,” “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” and, most especially, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific. When audiences of that era heard the final words of that song, “once you have found her, never let her go,” they were hearing themselves.
And so it is with the beautiful “September Song.” We love to imagine artists sweating away at their creations, surrounded by picturesquely crumpled pieces of their rejected ideas. But actually, like so many indelible creations, “September Song” was tossed off in a few hours, and was not even an idea of the show’s creators; it was an offhand idea from their leading man, Walter Huston, who felt he needed a solo moment. The words are lean and clear, but hardly memorable on their own. Kurt Weill’s music is what imprints this song so joyously into memory, with its elegant upward arc that always settles back to where it started. The song carries dual feelings: sweeping joy along with the incredulity of time’s swift passing. It is a song that always helps us welcome this special month, the happy beginning of so much.
Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December,
But the days grow short when you reach September.
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame,
One hasn’t got time for the waiting game.
Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few,
And these few precious days I’ll spend with you.
These precious days I’ll spend with you.