Lullabies to dream to on Heritage Day

23 Apr 2021

On 24 and 25 April, Heritage Day is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a festive edition on the theme of The Night. And of course we’re celebrating too! We’ve delved into our content partners’ archives to look for some nocturnal tones for this final part of our trilogy. This time, our news item focuses on lullabies, showcasing audio clips from the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp and Library Hasselt Limburg.

We can all remember at least one lullaby. As the name suggests, these songs are intended to lull children to sleep, which is why they often have such simple lyrics to accompany calming music.

Recent research has shown that they are also easy to recognise. In fact, a study from 2019 reports that they are so universal that we can recognise pieces of music as being lullabies anywhere in the world, even when we don’t speak the language. This is of course because lullabies are found all over the world, from Brazil to the Philippines and from Great Britain to New Zealand – lullabies can be heard everywhere.

And they’ve been around for centuries, too, which is why we can find so many examples in classical music, such as Johannes Brahms’ Wiegenlied (‘Lullaby’ or literally ‘Cradle Song’) with its opening line ‘Guten Abend, Gut’ Nacht’ (‘Good evening, good night’) from 1868, often heard in musical boxes. Or Shakespeare’s Goodbye with a Lullaby from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was put to music by Felix Mendelssohn in 1826. And there are modern lullabies as well, such as the Stekelvarkentjes Wiegelied (‘Porcupine Lullaby’) by Annie M.G. Schmidt or Slaap zacht mijn zoon (‘Sleep well my son’) by Bob Davidse (aka ‘Nonkel Bob’), which you can listen to here thanks to Library Hasselt Limburg:

Our best-known lullaby is still Slaap kindje, slaap (‘Sleep baby, sleep’). The oldest written source of this song dates from as early as around 1850, but it is likely to be much older. Various other versions have also emerged over the centuries and served as inspiration for yet more lullabies. But did you know that its familiar first line also appears in other lullabies? For example, in composer Arthur Meulemans’ Wiegenlied, which we can listen to here thanks to the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp:

Fancy bringing out your own night owl? Discover the Heritage Day activities that are taking place in your area here.


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