A lullaby is a soothing song, usually sung to children before they go to sleep. The idea is that the song sung by a familiar and beautiful voice will lull the child to sleep. Lullabies can be found in every human culture, often very ancient, and some international European examples can be found below.
Lullabies written by established classical composers are often given the form-name berceuse, which is French for lullaby, or cradle song. The most famous berceuse of all is Johannes Brahms’ lied Wiegenlied (cradle song), called Brahms’ Lullaby in English. Brahms wrote his „Wiegenlied” for a Bertha Faber, on the occasion of the birth of her second son. The English lyrics are similar to the original German.
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 someone 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♭.
Frédéric Chopin’s Opus 57 is a berceuse for solo piano. Other famous examples of the genre include Maurice Ravel’s Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Fauré for violin and piano; the Berceuse élégiaque by Ferruccio Busoni; the Berceuse from the opera Jocelyn by Benjamin Godard; the Berceuse by Igor Stravinsky which is featured in the Firebird ballet, and Lullaby for String Quartet by George Gershwin. The English composer Nicholas Maw’s orchestral nocturne The World in the Evening is subtitled ‚lullaby for large orchestra’. American composer Michael Glenn Williams Berceuse for solo piano (recorded by pianist Roberto Prosseda) uses an ostinato similar to Chopin’s but in a 21st century harmonic context. Contemporary American composer Todd Goodman’s Concerto for Bass Clarinet and Orchestra includes a „Berceuse” as the second movement. In terms of pop music, famous lullabies include „Good Night” by The Beatles and „Lullaby (Good Night My Angel)” by Billy Joel.
Asia has its own versions of the lullaby as well. In Tamil (a language of southern India and northern Sri Lanka), 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.
But most notably is the use of the oyayi in the Philippines, also called huluna in Batangas. In fact, the use of a song in putting a baby to sleep is so popular that almost every mother in the province is said to have composed at least one lullaby for her child.