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A lullaby is a soothing song sung to children before they go to sleep. The idea is that the song sung by a familiar voice will lull the child to sleep. Lullabies written by established classical composers are often given the form-name berceuse, which is a French word for lullaby, or cradle song. A famous berceuse is Frédéric Chopin's berceuse for solo piano, opus 57. Perhaps the most famous berceuse of all time, though it is called a lullaby, is Johannes Brahms' song Wiegenlied.

Johannes Brahms wrote his famous "Lullaby" as a cradle song, and hence Wiegenlied to which it translates in German, originally for a young singer whom he knew, Bertha Faber, on the occasion of the birth of her first child. The English lyrics are similar to the original German lyrics.

Typically a berceuse is in triple meter, or in a compound meter such as 6/8. Tonally most berceuses are simple, often merely alternating tonic and dominant harmonies: since the intended effect is to put a baby to sleep, wild chromaticism would be somewhat out of character. Another characteristic of the berceuse--for no reason other than convention--is a tendency to stay on the "flat side" --for example the berceuses by Chopin, Liszt and Balakirev are all in D♭.

Other famous examples of the genre include one by Maurice Ravel for violin and piano, Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Fauré; the Berceuse élégiaque by Ferruccio Busoni; the Berceuse by Igor Stravinsky which is featured in the Firebird ballet, and Lullaby for String Quartet by George Gershwin.

In Tamil (a language of southern India), a lullaby is called a thaalattu (thal means "tongue"). A melodious sound is created by frequent movement of the tongue at the beginning of the song, hence the name.


Rock-a-bye Baby

One of the most famous lullabies, "Rock-a-bye Baby", is hardly lulling. Although it starts mildly enough, it quickly turns to disaster:

Rock a bye baby on the tree top,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.

The author of this lullaby isn't certainly known. The Great American Baby Almanac reports that it was written by a pilgrim on the Mayflower and was inspired by a custom of the Wampanoag native people, who suspend their cradleboards in trees during fine weather. (History of Nursery Rhymes)

Hush Little Baby

Another famous lullaby, generally known as "Hush Little Baby" makes many promises to the child if it will only be quiet and go to sleep, a sentiment with which parents will be familiar:

Hush little baby, don't say a word,
Momma's going to buy you a mockingbird

and goes on to promise "a looking glass", "a horse and coach", and other treasures. This song has had the unusual distinction of two separate manifestations as a popular song, first as the eponymous "Bo Diddley" and then, in a near-fugue arrangement, as "Mockingbird", a hit first for the brother-and-sister team, Inez and Charlie Foxx in 1963, and then, for then husband and wife, James Taylor and Carly Simon in 1974, singing the Foxx arrangement. Toby Keith and his teenage daughter Krystal covered the song in 2004.

In 2005 rapper Eminem adapted "Mockingbird" into a song for his daughter. In it, he threatens to break the bird's neck if it won't sing.


A famous lullaby is "Summertime" from the Porgy and Bess musical of 1935. Sometimes it is also referred to as the Gershwin Lullaby. Although many of the jazz improvizations of this song have "wild chromaticism", the original is quite soothing, and somewhat slow and melancholy, in natural minor. The recurring gentle rocking back and forth between A-minor 6th and E-seventh, in the orchestral strings version, is simultaneously both sad and comforting. Additionally, many parents sing this song (unaccompanied) to their children, at bed time.

E+    Am6  E7   Am6
Summertime,     and the living is easy
So hush little baby, don't you cry.

All the Pretty Little Horses

Another famous lullaby is "All the Pretty Little Horses" which many children simply know by the first three words of the lyrics: "Hush a bye". Like Summertime this song is also played in natural minor.

Hush a bye,
don't you cry.
Am                    Bb Dm
Go to sleep my little ba-by;
When you wake,
you'll have cake,
and all the pretty little horses.
Black and bays,
Dapples and greys,
Coach and six little horses.

Pop Culture

In the 1998 video game The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Zelda's Lullaby is the first song that players are taught by Impa in the Castle Courtyard. The song is said to have mystical powers, capable of doing extraordinary things. The song is played on the ocarina and is played when playerspress the left-c, up-c, right-c, left-c, up-c, right-c buttons on the controller while holding the ocarina.

In the 2000 video game The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, Goron's Lullaby is a song players learn in the Northern Mountain. Players learn the first part from the frozen Goron Elder, and the rest from the Goron Baby in the Goron Shrine. It is used to put the Baby Goron to sleep, as well as the Giant Goron in front of Snowhead Temple. The song is played on the ocarina and is played when players press the A, right-c, left-c, A, right-c, left-c, right-c, A buttons on the controller while holding the ocarina.


External links

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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