"Autumn Leaves" is a much-recorded popular song. Originally a 1945 French song "Les feuilles mortes" (literally "The Dead Leaves") with music by Joseph Kosma and lyrics by poet Jacques Prévert. The English lyrics were written in 1949 by the American songwriter Johnny Mercer. It has become a pop standard and a jazz standard in both languages, and as an instrumental. The song was covered by Nat King Cole in the closing titles of the 1956 film of the same name.
Joseph Kosma (1905 - 1969)
Joseph Kosma was born in Budapest. He took an interest in music at a very young age, writing an opera called "Noel dans les Tranchées" as a teenager. One of his greatest loves in Budapest was the music of Bela Bartok. Finding the political atmosphere to be more and more oppressive in Budapest, Kosma moved to Berlin where he joined Bertolt Brecht's traveling theater troupe (Kosma was a friend of a friend of Brecht's wife). Once fascism was clearly on the rise in Berlin, Kosma headed for Paris, without knowing a word of French.
In Paris, Kosma eventually met Jacques Prévert. The pair went on to create around 80 songs, with Kosma setting Prévert's poems to music (and in a few instances, the other way around). Prévert introduced Kosma to Renoir (Prévert had written Crime de Monsieur Lange, Le (1936)), and one of Kosma's songs ended up in the film. Next, Kosma wrote the score for _Une partie de campagne (1936)_ ), which was not released until after the Second World War.
Kosma then met Marcel Carné through Prévert. Kosma went on to work for Carné through the Occupation - while hiding in the South of France, because he was a Jew. While in hiding, Kosma ended up writing uncredited scores for Visiteurs du soir, Les (1942)) and Enfants du paradis, Les (1945))- though Kosma actually ended up with his name in the credits for this latter film, because the fall of the Nazis was imminent as the film was nearing completion.
Kosma is perhaps most famous for his song "Feuilles Mortes" ("Autumn Leaves"), which has been covered by many jazz musicians in many different countries. The piece was originally written for an opera called "Le Rendez-vous", which Prévert and Kosma then convinced Carné to turn into a film. The film changed its name to Portes de la nuit, Les (1946), after a Prévert lyric from another song, to avoid confusion with another film that had recently been released. The film was the most costly film to date in the French film industry (Les Enfants du Paradis had been before this), but failed at the box office, though critics praised the music.
In the postwar years, Kosma wrote numerous notable scores, particularly the score for the haunting and disturbing film, Sang des bêtes, Le (1949). Kosma continued to work on film scores until his death, though in his last years he focused on his first love, music for theater, composing the operas "Les Hussards" and "Les Canuts". The Kosma/Carné/Prévert team gradually drifted apart, and Kosma remarks in his journals that his two old friends did not come to one of his opera premieres. Kosma continued to work for Renoir until the very end, however, composing the music for later works.
|The guitar arrangement|
The arrangement is by David Boddington, an Australian classical guitarist I met through my guitar teacher Jason Waldron. David wrote many such arrangements of popular songs which he made freely available to teachers and students he was associated with.