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Berceuse (Lullaby), in D flat major, Op. 57

The Berceuse, Op. 57 is one of Fryderyk Chopin's most extraordinary works. It dates from the late years in his output-completed in 1844 and published the following year. This short composition is generally regarded as a lyrical masterpiece, in which Chopin's compositional artistry is fully manifest.

The origins of the Berceuse are probably linked to Chopin's enchantment with the eighteen-month-old daughter of his friend, the singer Pauline Viardot. The little Louise won the hearts of Chopin and George Sand at Nohant in 1843: "Chopin adores her and spends his time kissing her on the hands", wrote Sand in a letter. And those moments spent playing with this charming infant may well have inspired the composer to write a lullaby-style piece.

He produced a work that not only ideally fulfils the requirements of the genre, but is also composed in an exceptionally refined and masterful way. The work is based on a four-bar theme, which is followed by a series of sixteen variations (Chopin initially intended calling the work Variantes). Throughout virtually the whole of the piece, the right-hand part is accompanied by a fixed bass formula in the left, purposely static and monotonous. Yet the listener feels not the slightest monotony, as in the right-hand part Chopin elaborates over the successive variations-with inexhaustible inventiveness-a succession of ornamental-figural transformations of the theme. These dazzle the listener with their shifting forms. The ornamental devices and complex figures create unusual and innovative colouristic and tonal-harmonic effects, at times prefiguring musical impressionism. Whilst imposing upon himself the discipline of the four-bar theme and fixed bass accompaniment, the composer displays complete freedom and the greatest technical mastery. In keeping with the demands of a true lullaby, the Berceuse adheres to a piano and pianissimo dynamic.

Among the most outstanding pianistic interpretations of this masterpiece are recordings by Polish pianists of the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: Josef Hofmann and Ignacy Friedman.


 
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