“It’s a tale of two torch songs. The original, written in French as “Les Feuilles Mortes” (literally, “Dead Leaves”) was a dark lament of lost love and regret. The translated version, “Autumn Leaves,” touched on the same theme, but in a gentler, more wistful way.
The song began its life in 1945 as a poem. It was written by screenwriter and Left Bank intellectual Jacques Prévert as part of the script for a ballet called Le Rendezvous. Two years later, when director Marcel Carné made a film of the ballet, a Hungarian-born film composer named Joseph Kosma set Prévert’s poem to music. Maybe because the words weren’t conceived in song form, it took on a slightly unwieldy structure. Kosma interpreted it as 24 bars of introductory verse containing two distinct moods and melodies, followed by a 16-bar refrain (half the length of a traditional Tin Pan Alley song)."