Academic journal article Journal of Singing

"Lullay, My Child"

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

"Lullay, My Child"

Article excerpt

This text from the fifteenth century was first published by Thomas Wright in Songs and Carols Now First Printed, From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century (London: The Percy Society, 1847) in the form of English of that time. It has been modified and modernized at various times and resembles other such Christmas texts from that century. This rendition of the text has modernized most words, but left some in their original form.

The structure of the poem includes three speakers: Mary, the Holy Child, and the poet. As with many of the medieval carols, this one is less a welcome for the newborn child than an explanation of the reason for his birth and a foreshadowing of his death. The lullaby frames the poem at beginning and end: "Lullay, my child, and wepe no more,/ Slepe and be now still;/ The King of Blis thy father is,/ As it was His will." The poet then sets the scene of the mother singing to her child"This endris night/ I saw a sight,/ A maid a cradle kepe," It is unclear whether the next stanza is the mother or the child speaking but the poet again speaks: "Me thought I herd/ The child answered." The child asks rhetorically why he is here and then answers his own question.

The composer has chosen to emphasize the dramatic content of the text, the child's astounding explanation of why he was born and who his father really is. This is not a traditional Christmas carol full of light and joy but the core of Christianity in brief prophetic form. The musical setting reflects the great mystery in mysterious sound built on a falling four-note figure that is modal but not quite Phrygian: G-F#-E-D#. This melodic figure is shared by piano and voice and recurs in various forms throughout the song. The underlying unrest of the scene is reflected in the syncopation in the piano that occurs in various sections, especially in the opening and closing stanzas.

The text is set syllabically with occasional two-note slurs and short melismas. The vocal line begins low on the staff with the falling melodic figure and leaps a ninth to the top of the staff for "the King of Blis thy Father is." This same music and text setting is repeated for the last stanza. As the stanzas progress to the dramatic climax ("Father of Grace"), the vocal line paints the motion and meaning of the text as the piano develops its themes and provides more movement to heighten the effect, extending the climactic vocal phrase with a sixteen measure interlude. …

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