Musical contribution - November 2017

Berceuse - Gabriël Fauré (1845-1924)

The French word ‘Berceuse’ means ‘lullaby’. It’s not without reason that this piece is offered in the dark month of November. On a dark afternoon, with the last leaves falling from the trees outside, it’s wonderful to lose ourselves in a dreamy melody such as this one.

Many composers have a ‘Berceuse’ among their compositions. At one time it became an art form in itself, with virtuosity and all, but not so with Gabriël Fauré. Such effects cannot be found in Fauré’s work, let alone in his Berceuse. A reviewer once wrote:

‘In his compositions, Fauré seeks a balance between romantic sensitivity and rigorous composition rules, in order to achieve his own style. Melody and harmony (from the Gregorian) help him to conceal his sense of romantic sentiment and exuberance. His music is particularly understated and delicate.’

The Berceuse was first performed on 14 February 1880 during a concert for chamber music organised by the Société Nationale de Musique in Paris. Fauré himself accompanied the Belgian violinist Ovide Musin on the grand piano. His newly written piano quartet was meant to be the high point of this concert, but everyone – as well as the reviews – talked about the lovely Berceuse. So much so that it had to be performed again that very night. Two months later, an arrangement came out for violin and orchestra.

A Berceuse is often in 6/8 time, and this work is too. The first 14 bars with an ostinato bass switch between the tonic and the dominant, first in D and later in F-sharp minor. Together with the late romantic harmonies (added 7 and 9), the beautiful melody doesn’t make me fall asleep at all; instead, it keeps me riveted to the edge of my seat from the first to last note.

In the original, there are quite a few ‘cresc.’ and ‘decresc.’ signs, which are intended for the violinist. These are intended more to evoke tension and relaxation than great differences in intensity, hence I have left them out.

In terms of registration, there are various possibilities:

For accompaniment, I think of an 8’,

Pedal: 16’ and 8’,

Melody:

a very soft reed,

string principal,

lovely warm gamba (perhaps combined with another soft 8’)

Let’s hope for many more dark afternoons in November.

With musical regards,

André van Vliet

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