In 1994, Marilyn Horne, nearing the end of her career, came out with an album of lullabies. A splendid album it is. It includes lullabies from all over the world, in their multiplicity of tongues and styles. Some are classical—art songs—and some are folk songs. The great mezzo-soprano handles them all with beauty, skill, and love.
This is a rich literature, lullabies: mothers have been singing them to their little ones from time immemorial, and a few fathers surely have done it as well.
Horne’s is not the only album of lullabies, of course. I think of Heidi Grant Murphy’s (1999). Talk about “beauty, skill, and love”! HGM is practically born to sing lullabies, along with Baroque arias, Strauss songs, and plenty else.
(Please be advised that she is a friend of mine. But you know I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true.)
How about lullabies for piano? Would you have thought of making an album of those? I wouldn’t have. But Bertrand Chamayou, or someone, did. Chamayou is a French pianist, whose new album is GoodNight!
That rendering, incidentally, strikes me as some third way between “good night” and “goodnight.”
The granddaddy of all lullabies for piano is Chopin’s Berceuse in D flat. It gets quite elaborate and virtuosic—dazzling, in fact—and I’m not sure how baby could sleep. Baby would be riveted to every note. Let me mention, too, that Chopin’s Berceuse often gets confused with his Barcarolle—which is understandable, in that both a lullaby and a barcarolle are lulling.
You will have noted the relationship between the words “lull” and “lullaby.”
Bertrand Chamayou duly includes Chopin’s Berceuse in his new album. It is one of only three pieces in the lineup I knew. The others are by Grieg and Busoni. (We should not count Brahms’s lullaby, because that’s sort of cheating. Chamayou plays a piano arrangement of this beloved song, by Reger.)
The Busoni Berceuse is a favorite of Igor Levit, the Russian-German pianist. Levit is crazy about Busoni in general. Busoni composed his lullaby to honor the memory of his mother. An extraordinary act, I think: to compose a lullaby in memory of your mother. Busoni later made an orchestral arrangement of his piano piece, calling it Berceuse élégiacque.
As with Marilyn Horne’s selections—and HGM’s and others’—Chamayou’s selections are from all over. They belong to different periods and styles. They have no words, however—they are piano pieces—ruling out the question of tongues.
I like Villa-Lobos’s lullaby, because it sounds like him. There is a kindness and a happiness to it. You recall that Artur Rubinstein used to play a Villa-Lobos piece as an encore? A fast and giddy one? That was “Punch,” from The Baby’s Family. Well, this lullaby comes from the same collection, or family.
I also like Martinů’s—beautiful and darkish. Helmut Lachenmann, the German composer, wrote a lullaby in 1963. To this thornily modernist piece, there’s no way baby could drift off to sleep. (In fact, he might have nightmares.)
Baby could drift off to Balakirev’s, however. Mily Balakirev, the Islamey guy? One and the same. Islamey is more like a piece you could wake up to, leaping out of bed, ready to meet the day.
Speaking of Russian composers, Sergei Lyapunov gets two bites at the apple: Chamayou plays two lullabies by him. Liszt gets two bites, too.
There is a new lullaby on this album, namely Song for Octave, written by Bryce Dessner this very year. Dessner is an American, born in 1976. His piece is simple and clear—“white,” you might say (without any racial connotation, obviously). It is also a little New Agey, a little minimalistic. I liked it.
In common with many such pieces, Song for Octave does not really have an ending. It just kind of quits. (But maybe baby has drifted off to sleep already, so the ending is appropriate?)
Bertrand Chamayou is a fine pianist, whom I reviewed twice a couple of seasons ago, about a week apart: he played a concert with Sol Gabetta, the cellist, and a concerto with the New York Philharmonic (the Mendelssohn G-minor). In his lullabies, he is intelligent and feeling. He is also sincere, evincing a belief in this project. Moreover, he sings well. A pianist must sing, not least in lullabies. This lyrical quality is particularly evident in the Brahms-Reger, I think.
What a good idea, this album of pianistic lullabies.