Berceuse (Fr.: ‘cradle’, ‘lullaby’; Ger. Wiegenlied)
- Kenneth L. Hamilton
(Fr.: ‘cradle’, ‘lullaby’; Ger. Wiegenlied)
A gentle song intended for lulling young children to sleep. In instrumental music the term usually refers to a character-piece for piano. The defining work of the genre is Chopin's Berceuse in D♭ major op.57 (1843–4), a model imitated by several other composers. Its most notable characteristics are compound time, a quiet dynamic level, a tonic pedal bass and a ‘rocking’ accompaniment oscillating between chords I and V, over which Chopin places a simple melody later varied with a profusion of filigree passagework.
The first version of Liszt's Berceuse (1854), also in D♭ major, is indebted to Chopin's, but the revised version (1862) is much more elaborate, featuring complex chromatic excursions and an extended coda. The ‘rocking’ feel of compound metre is here achieved by the use of triplets within 4/4 time; the same is true of the berceuse from Gounod's opera La reine de Saba...