Chopin, Home for Christmas, If Only in His Dreams

Lulajże, Jezuniu, “Lullaby, Little Jesus” is a traditional Polish Christmas carol dating from the nineteenth century, or who knows, perhaps earlier. Here is a lyric in original and in translation; very homey, yes?

Lulajże Jezuniu, moja Perełko,
Lulaj ulubione me Pieścidełko.
Lulajże Jezuniu, lulaj, że lulaj
A ty go matulu w płaczu utulaj


          Hush little Jesus, my little pearl,
          Hush my favourite little delight.
          Hush little Jesus, hush, hush
          But you lovely mother, solace him in tears


Here it is sung by Stefan Witas in a 1932 recording for Columbia.

Fryderyk Chopin incorporated this carol into his first scherzohis Scherzo No.1 in B minor, Op. 20. Why would he do that? And for that matter, why would he set a musical joke in a minor key?

In 1830, Chopin was in Vienna.  The Polish military cadets in Warsaw launched an uprising against the Russian Tsar. This November Uprising of 1830 involved Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, and Belarus, and went on for 8 or 9 months until its ultimate defeat.  This was their battle flag:


FOR                                AND
OUR                              YOUR


This is translated as  For our freedom and yoursand has been repeated in subsequent wars, and is repeated now.

Chopin’s friends persuaded him to remain in Vienna while this insurrection raged in his homeland.  So his compatriots were fighting for independence far away; he had TB anyway; he could not fight.  I think that, obsessed with the knowledge of the fight and feeling the agony of his homeland, he must have considered a musical joke perfectly appropriate.  It was a sick joke that Fate was playing on the Poles and their allies. The music speaks of frenzy.

Here is The Taking of the Warsaw Arsenal, Marcin Zaleski 1831.

This is easily imagined on hearing the scherzo.  Here is Artur Rubenstein performing:

The structure of the thing is all there to read about, but the stunner is what happens in the very center of it.  At 3’20” in this recording, the waking nightmare pauses, and reverie takes over.  We hear the melody of Lulajże, Jezuniu.  We hear just the melody, as if we were being rocked in maternal arms, or as if we were in meditation before the Manger, or as if we were at home at Christmas.

But then we are jerked awake, startled back to the present and to war.

There are times when, after reading the news for an hour, I deliberately send my thoughts back to the security and the wholeness of my own childhood – for I was lucky to have such. My father would look at me and say Pieścidełko – little dear one.

I see the twinkling tree and all the glowing lights; I sense the dark snowy winds beyond the curtains; I hear the music; I sense the fragrances from the kitchen; I notice the rustlings of dear ones moving around the house.  Yes, I go back there in memory on purpose, but then startle awake, jerk back to the present, where there is knowledge of protracted, seemingly distant, yet decisive battle.


11 thoughts on “Chopin, Home for Christmas, If Only in His Dreams”

  1. Thanks, @10Cents.  The link works though, and it is a great recording of a nice tenor voice, plus all the scratchy vinyl versimilitude.

    Here is another recording, kinda twee maybe, but sung slowly enough that you can follow the lyric along if you like.

  2. 10 Cents:
    UPDATE: Beats me why this is only going to a link.

    The URL cited in the original post fails when an oEmbed request is made to embed it in a page.  When submitted to the oEmbed Tester, it reports “URL is not valid or does not support discovery”. The URL in comment #3, by contrast, returns the proper embed code.  It may be that the person who posted the original video disabled embedding, but I don’t know any way to discover this other than trying it and seeing if it works.

  3. jzdro:
    Wesołych świąt!

    Dear jzdro, could you spell out phonetically how to pronounce the above, including stress?
    I would love to be in Poland for Christmas one year.  I have never visited a place where the Nativity seemed more present.

  4. Hypatia:

    Wesołych świąt!

    Dear jzdro, could you spell out phonetically how to pronounce the above, including stress?
    I would love to be in Poland for Christmas one year.  I have never visited a place where the Nativity seemed more present.

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  5. Okay @Hypatia, here we go:

    Wesołych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia!

    Stress is always on penultimate syllable, just like Latin.

    Veh  SO wichh                (I made up “chh” to sound like the “H” in “Hi!”)        (ł is English w)

    shviahnt                          (Always let your larynx drop down in your throat when you pronounce ą .)

    boh JHEH goh               (is meaning “of God”)

    nah ro DZEN ya             (is meaning “the birth”)  (always roll an r a little bit)

  6. The orchestra I used to play in, did this for Christmas.  I asked our Polish conductor to find a nice Polish Christmas Carol for us.  Delightful!



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