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Lully Lullay

Lucie Skeaping explores the art of the lullaby, from ancient melody to Elizabethan song, and discovers how the form offers inspiration to the world of early music.

Lucie Skeaping explores the tender art of the lullaby, from ancient melody to Elizabethan song, and discovers how this most intimate of forms offers inspiration to the world of early music.

The act of rocking a child to sleep with a gentle tune is one of our most simple and natural forms of music-making. They are common to all cultures and ages, and though they are varied, they all share remarkable similarities. Their words are soothing, using onomatopoeic and nonsense sounds, like the 'ninna nanna' of Italy and the English 'lulla lulla'.

Often these lullabies are passed down from generation to generation and are known throughout regions and countries. But they are also transformed by this oral transmission. Many look outward to nocturnal themes, or to daily chores and the baby itself.

Religious themes are also widespread. By its very nature, the lullaby has a certain gentle spirituality and its serenity is particularly suited to the Nativity. It reminds us of Mary's pure devotion to the baby Jesus, her gentle care and the universality of this particular kind of miracle. Many Christmas carols incorporate gentle rocking rhythms, simple structures, repetitive motifs or common phrases, like the 'Lully Lullay' of the well-known Coventry Carol. Many were also well-known secular tunes that were given devotional subjects in an attempt to lead audiences away from profane subjects. Others depict holy figures in easily-recognised scenes from daily life - Joseph rocking the cradle or Mary washing nappies.

As well as featuring traditional music, and anonymous composers from around the world, the programme features pieces by English composers Anthony Holborne, William Byrd and John Bennet.

58 minutes

Music Played

  • Anon (England c.1580 – though often attributed to Byrd)

    My Sweet Little Darling

    Performers: Alain Zaepffel, Eugéne Ferre, Les Elements

    • ADDA.
    • 581033.
  • Anon.

    Lullay - I Saw A Swete Semly Syght

    Performer: Anonymous 4

    • HARMONIA MUNDI.
    • HMU 907099.
  • unknown - Turkmen Lullaby

  • Anthony Holborne

    The Fruit of Love

    Performer: The King’s Noyse

    • HARMONIA MUNDI.
    • HMU 907238.
  • Anthony Holborne

    Pavan The Cradle

    Performer: The York Waits

    • AMON RA.
    • CDSAR 62.
  • Anthony Holborne

    Galliard Lullabie

    Performer: The King’s Noyse

    • HARMONIA MUNDI.
    • HMU 907238.
  • William Byrd

    Lullaby, my sweet little baby

    Performers: David Cordier, Tragicomedia

    • HYPERION.
    • CDA 66307.
  • Alfred Deller & The Deller Consort - Song of the Nuns of Chester

  • Anon.

    Swete was the song the Virgine soong

    Performers: Taverner Consort & Players, Andrew Parrott

    • EMI.
    • CDC 7498092.
  • Anon.

    Lullaby, lullow

    Performers: Taverner Consort, Andrew Parrott

    • VIRGIN CLASSICS.
    • VC 5451562.
  • Anon.

    Coventry Carol

    Performer: Sneak’s Noyse

    • AMON RA.
    • CDSAR 62.
  • Anon.

    Canção de embalar - Jose embala o menino (arr. J Savall)

    Performers: Montserrat Figuerres, Hesperion XXI

    • ALIA VOX.
    • AV 9826.
  • Anon.

    Berceuse - Noumi, noumi yaldati

    Performers: Montserrat Figuerres, Hesperion XXI

    • ALIA VOX.
    • AV 9826.
  • John Bennet

    Venus' Birds

    Performers: David Cordier, Tragicomedia, Stephen Stubbs

    • HYPERION.
    • CDA 66307.
  • Anon.

    Baloo, my babe

    Performers: Evelyn Tubb (soprano), Michael Fields (lute)

    • MUSICA OSCURA.
    • 070980.
  • Anon.

    My Sweet Little Darling

  • Anonymous 4

    Lullay - I Saw a Swete Semly Syght

  • Trad.

    Turkmenistan Lullaby

  • Anthony Holborne

    The Fruit of Love

  • Anthony Holborne

    Pavan The Cradle

  • Anthony Holborne

    Galliard Lullabie

  • William Byrd

    Lullabye, My Sweete Little Baby

  • Anon.

    Song of the Nuns of Chester

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous - Swete was the song the Virgine soong

  • Anon.

    Lullaby, lullow

  • Anon.

    Coventry Carol

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous - Cancao de embalar - Jose embala o menino

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous - Berceuse - Noumi, noumi yaldati

  • John Bennet

    Venus' Birds

  • Anon.

    Baloo, my babe

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