For years, we had a toy for our daughter’s cot/bed: a chunky lump of yellow plastic shaped like a star which, when turned on, played a variety of lulling tunes and projected a moving image of cuddly cartoon bears onto the ceiling. We’d put it on and play it to help her get to sleep, and one of the tunes, well known to anyone who’s ever watched a vintage Looney Tunes cartoon in which a character has been rendered unconscious, is the melody from Brahms‘ Wiegenlied, a.k.a. ‘Brahms’ Lullaby’.
However, the plastic star thing used to play this tune in a way that used to make me annoyed ever time I heard it, because of what I regarded as the inept coding of whoever had programmed the melodies. Cartoons and TV have always taught us that the opening few bars of the melody go like this:
Or, for those who can’t read music, da da dee, da da dee, da da dee deee, deh-dee deee.
The Tomy Lullaby Light Show, on the other hand, played it like this (taken from further on in the same document, hence the absence of 3/4 time signature:
In syllabic terms, da da dee, da-daaa dee, da da dee deee, deh-dee deee.
That slight stutter in the second bar, the way the two quavers in the first bar weren’t just repeated but were turned into a quaver and crotchet the second time around, used to drive me nuts as a crass error in programming. I couldn’t believe it had survived the product testing process. It interrupted the rhythm and stopped it from sounding so immaculately lullaby-ish.
However, I was wrong, and the Tomy Lullaby Light Show was right: that’s what Brahms wrote. Cartoons and TV have been misquoting him for years. And not just them: google ‘Brahms Lullaby’ and you’ll find sheet music websites repeating the same error:
But here it is, scanned in from a copy of the 1868 edition of 5 Lieder Op 49:
(Musicians among you will also note that this is in a different key, E flat major instead of F.)
What does this mean? That people are stupid and/or careless? Or is it that they automatically ‘correct’ complexities because they feel things ought to be simple? Brahms had a low tolerance for stupidity and, it could be argued, for people in general, but he knew what he was doing. More on Brahms later.