The instrumental theme of Les Feuilles Mortes was introduced in 1945 in the ballet “Le Rendez-vous” by Roland Petit. When Marcel Carné discovered the song he used it as a theme in his movie “Les Portes de la Nuit”, a gloomy drama set in post World War II Paris. Jacques Prévert, who provided the plot for Petit’s ballet as well as the script for Carné’s movie, added the lyrics for the movie. Originally, Carné wanted Marlene Dietrich to perform the song opposite Jean Gabin, however, after some quarrels Carné casted the leading characters with Yves Montand and Nathalie Nattier who both eventually performed Les Feuilles Mortes in the movie, even though the song was not sung in full and Nattier was dubbed by a professional singer.
Although closely linked with Montand as one of his signature tunes, it was most likely French singer Cora Vaucaire who introduced Les Feuilles Mortes on record, either shortly before or after the movie or in 1948—here, sources are at odds. The first male singer to record the song was Jacques Douai, probably in 1947. Yves Montand recorded the song only in 1949 as A-side to Et la fête continue, backed by Bob Castella’s Orchestra and later included on his 1953 album Yves Montand Chante.
Allegedly, Johnny Mercer wrote the English lyrics titled Autumn Leaves hastily during a train ride, claiming later that he made more money from that song than from any other one he wrote. His lyrics were first recorded in 1950 by Jo Stafford on her single Autumn Leaves b/w Autumn in New York.
Despite some early recordings by jazzmen such as Stan Kenton and Artie Shaw, the international public showed rather little interest in the song until pianist Roger Williams scored a number one hit in the US in 1955 with his pretty corny version. The next year, Nat ‘King’ Cole’s version from 1953 was featured during the credits of the Joan Crawford movie titled “Autumn Leaves”, the first of several movies to come that featured the song. Not least because of Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley’s fine recording in 1958 featuring Miles Davis, Autumn Leaves finally gained wide success as a jazz and pop standard with countless versions to date.
It appears that Les Feuilles Mortes was introduced in Brazil by an Italian when Teddy Reno’s version was released in 1950 with Jula de Palma’s rendition of Aimer Toujours on the flipside. The first Brazilian to record the song was apparently Ivon Cury in 1952. Both performed the song in the original French version while other Brazilian recordings feature different adaptations of the lyrics, either by Clímaco César as recorded Zezé Gonzaga or by Juvenal Fernandes as recorded by Carlos Galhardo.
In 1961, while touring the US, Maysa recorded Autumn Leaves in French and English on her US debut Maysa Sings Songs Before Dawn. The album was arranged and conducted by Jack Pleis and was also recorded in Spanish for release in Latin America. Oddly enough, Maysa Sings Songs Before Dawn was never issued in Brazil which created a long lasting mystical aura for fans in her home country.
Selected recordings of Les Feuilles Mortes aka Autumn Leaves:
1. Teddy Reno from the single Les Feuilles Mortes b/w Aimer Toujours (1950, Copacabana 056-a)
2. Ivon Cury from the single Place Pigalle b/w Les Feuilles Mortes (1952, Continental 16.547-a)
3. Zezé Gonzaga from the single Velha Canção (Hush-A-Bye) b/w Folhas Mortas (Les Feuilles Mortes) (1954, Sinter 00-00.273-a) and the album Música e Romance na Voz Sentimental de Zezé Gonzaga (1955, Sinter SLP 1046)
4. Carlos Galhardo from the single Rio Enamorado b/w Folhas de Outono (Les Feuilles Mortes) (1956, RCA Victor 80-1574-a)
5. Sandoval Dias from the album Um Saxofone em Hi-Fi (1957, Sinter SLP 1726)
6. Dircinha Batista from the album Música Para o Mundo (1957, RCA Victor BPL 3048)
7. Orlando Silveira from the album Par Constante (1957, Odeon MOCB 3004)
8. Quarteto Monte Carlo from the album Drink Musical (1960, Prestige DLP 1015)
9. Héctor Costita aka Bil Bell from the album Sua Majestade o Sax (c1962, Damic DAM-5048)
10. Sidney from the album Isto é Dança Vol. 3 (1963, CBS 37246)
11. Alberto Mota from the album Quarteto de Alberto Mota (1963, Polydor LPNG 4078)
12. Los Índios Tabajaras from the album Los Índios Tabajaras (1973, RCA Camden 107.4022)
13. Dick Farney from the album Um Piano ao Cair da Tarde No. 2 (1975, Odeon SMOFB 3893)
Selected recordings of Les Feuilles Mortes originally not issued in Brazil:
Maysa from the album Maysa Sings Songs Before Dawn (1961, Columbia [USA] CS 8426)
Comparable versions of Les Feuilles Mortes:
1. Cora Vaucaire from the single Les feuilles mortes b/w Deux escargots vont à l’enterrement (c.1947, Le Chant du Monde [FRA] 1536)
2. Jacques Douai from unidentified single Les feuilles mortes (c.1947, [FRA] n/a)
3. Yves Montand from the single Les feuilles mortes b/w Et la fête continue (1949, Odéon [FRA] 282066) and the album Yves Montand Chante (1953, Odéon [FRA] OS1001)
4. Jo Stafford from the single Autumn Leaves b/w Autumn in New York (1950, Capitol [USA] F1248)
5. Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley from the album Somethin’ Else (1958, Blue Note [USA] BST 81595)
LES FEUILLES MORTES
Oh! je voudrais tant que tu te souviennes • Des jours heureux où nous étions amis • En ce temps-là la vie était plus belle • Et le soleil plus brûlant qu’aujourd’hui • Les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle • Tu vois, je n’ai pas oublié • Les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle • Les souvenirs et les regrets aussi • Et le vent du nord les emporte • Dans la nuit froide de l’oubli • Tu vois, je n’ai pas oublié • La chanson que tu me chantais
C’est une chanson qui nous ressemble • Toi, tu m’aimais et je t’aimais • Et nous vivions tous les deux ensemble • Toi qui m’aimais, moi qui t’aimais
Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s’aiment • Tout doucement, sans faire de bruit • Et la mer efface sur le sable • Les pas des amants désunis
The falling leaves drift by the window • The autumn leaves of red and gold • I see your lips, the summer kisses •The sun-burned hands I used to hold
Since you went away the days grow long • And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song • But I miss you most of all my darling • When autumn leaves start to fall
[English lyrics by Johnny Mercer]
O vento sopra • Folhas então • Soltas no espaço • Rolando vão • São folhas secas • Que o vento traz • As esperanças não voltam mais • Também para mim • Tudo terminou • Chegou ao fim a ilusão • Sonho que passou • Deixou folhas mortas • No meu coração • Folhas mortas no meu coração • No meu coração
[Portuguese lyrics by Clímaco César]
Folhas de outono • Fazem lembrar • Eu e você • A luz do luar • Beijo seus lábios • A murmurar • Doces palavras • Do verbo amar • Mas você partiu • Sem um adeus • Triste eu fiquei • Com minha dor • Vejo em sonhos • Só você, você • Folhas de outono • Do amor
[Portuguese lyrics by Juvenal Fernandes]