Berceuse: Chopin's variations on his mother's favorite lullaby
Chopin LP cover
Berceuse is a lyrical piano piece written by Frédéric Chopin late in his career and first published in 1844. The work was originally titled Variantes as it was composed as a series of 16 short variations to a Polish traditional melody.
Chopin was among the first composers of the Romantic era to write a piece entitled Berceuse which can be classified as a lullaby since the word "berceuse" means “girl or woman who rocks a cradle” in French.
Melodically, Chopin's lullaby follows—at a fairly slow tempo—the popular Polish folk song Już miesiąc zaszedł psy się uśpiły (The moon had set, the dogs were asleep) that traditionally uses the lyrics of the idyll Laura i Filon by Franciszek Karpiński. According to some sources, Chopin becamse fascinated by this melody in his childhood, having been exposed to the lullaby through his mother as it had been her favorite song.
Listen to Chopin's Berceuse performed by Maurizio Pollini:
Curiously, Berceuse is not the only Chopin piece based on the traditional melody of Już miesiąc zaszedł psy się uśpiły. The same theme can be found in his early work Fantasy On Polish Airs where it appears in the original tempo.