BERCEUSE - MUSIC OF PEACE AND CALM (Naxos: 8.553843)
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Thecradle-song or lullaby is found in every civilisation. In its French romantictransmogrification as Berceuse ittakes on a more formal existence. Here the simple cradle-song to lull a childto sleep becomes the careful product of art, with the title used by Chopin,Liszt and their successors. A general feature of the form, even in its naturaland primitive state, is that it is imbued with a mood of maternal tendernessand has, as the French title suggests, a rocking rhythm. The German Wiegenlied has a similar connotation. InChristian tradition, of course, there are also associations with theChrist-child, so that a lullaby may sometimes take on a new significance, as insome Renaissance painting of the Madonna and Child.
In fact theAir
from Johann Sebastian Bach's Third Orchestral Suite lacks the rhythmof a cradle-song but certainly possesses its soporific quality. Written forstrings, the melody is heard over a gently repetitive bass pattern. Anineteenth-century arrangement by the violinist August Wilhelmj earned it thepopular name Air on the G String.
Bach wrote the third of his four OrchestralSuites, between 1729 and 1731 in Leipzig,where he served from 1723 until his death in 1750 as Thomascantor, responsible for music in the principal city churches.
The titleschosen by the eccentric French composer Erik Satie for many of his works arecharacteristic enough. His Gymnopedies
,a word that suggests the naked ritual games of Spartan boys in ancient Greece, are anexample of this, since the music, with its gentle lilt, seems to have nobearing on the title. There is tranquilly undulating rhythm throughout, underthe poignant and essentially simple melody, suggesting something statuesqueabout the games or their representation.
The Finnish-borncomposer Armas Jarnefelt enjoyed a career as a conductor and composer in Sweden,eventually taking Swedish citizenship. His Berceuse,scored for small orchestra, is among his better known compositions.
Relativelylittle is known of the German amateur composer Bernhard Flies, who was probablyborn in Berlin
about the year 1770. He was a doctor and wrote some piano pieces and somesongs. Of the latter the lullaby Schlafemein Prinzchen
(Sleep, my little Prince) is the best known and was onceattributed to Mozart.
GabrielFaure, who achieved a recognised place in the official world of French music inthe 1890s, as Satie was beginning his strange career, wrote a very well-known Berceuse of his own, familiar in manyarrangements. Less familiar is the Nocturne
from his music for Shylock, a playbased on the work of Shakespeare by Edmond Haraucourt staged in Paris in 1889.
The Frenchviola-player and composer Benjamin Godard was slightly younger than Faure,although the latter outlived him by nearly thirty years. His Berceuse is taken from his opera Jocelyn, based on a poem by Lamartine,and represents the only element in it that found any popular favour.
The Wiegenlied (Cradle-Song) by JohannesBrahms was written in 1868. It is based on a German folk-song text and must bethe most widely known of all lullabies, with its gently lilting Guten Abend, gute Nacht to be heard onmany a musical-box.
ClaudeDebussy's Clair de lune (Moonlight)enjoyed a degree of popularity that the composer found embarrassing. It waswritten in 1890 as part of a set of pieces under the title Suite bergamasque. The reference is to the fin de si?¿cle poetry of Verlaine, in a mood of nostalgic yearningfor the world that has gone, the idealised period of Watteau and hiscontemporaries, now recalled by two lonely ghosts of the past, conversing inthe moonlight in the deserted park of some ch?óteau.
FranzSchubert's Wiegenlied, Schlafe, schlafe,hoalder s???ƒer Knabe (Sleep, sleep, lovely sweet child) was written in 1816.
The simplicity of the words has suggested that, like the other songs of thesame month of November, they should be attributed to Matthias Claudius,although the poem is not found among the published work of a writer known forhis treatment of simple, even trivial subjects in simple language.
After areturn to Erik Satie's Gymnopedies,now the second of the set of three, a place is found for the pianotransformation of the Berceuse into aconcert piece, among other forms that Chopin similarly changed and developed.
It is a relatively late work, completed in 1844, and is highly original in itspresentation of what are, in fact, sixteen variations.
Sleep or,at least, day-dreams are suggested in the title of Robert Schumann's Traumerei, one of his Scenes of Childhood written in 1838 andexemplifying his talent for the composition of short picture-pieces, here apicture of a feature of childhood rather than a piece for children. While notparticularly demanding, the little pieces are intended rather as an adult'sview of a child's world.
The Russiancomposer Pyotr Tchaikovsky modelled his own Albumfor the Young on a similar, later work by Schumann, written with his ownchildren in mind. Tchaikovsky, of course, had no children but in writing hisnew Album met a ready and usefulmarket. His Douce r?¬verie (SweetDreams) is No. 21 in a set of 24 easy pieces for children to play, written in1878, as he began a new life of freedom from teaching, through sudden andunexpected patronage, and from the ties of a highly unsuitable marriage, whichhad foundered a few months after it had been contracted.
IgorStravinsky was eleven when Tchaikovsky died. The son of a distinguished singer,he took lessons from Rimsky-Korsakov and soon after the latter's death won ameasure of fame in Paris with his music for Dyagilev's ballet The Firebird, first staged in 1910. The Lullaby is danced by the Firebird, themagic creature through whose powers the evil Kashchey is defeated and thePrince and Princesses held captive released from his spell.
The final Pavane p