A few months before he completed the B minor Sonata, Chopin put the finishing touches to his Berceuse Op 57. The original title was Variantes
, and this describes its final form rather well: a set of sixteen short variations on an ostinato ground (there is a sketch of the work that lays this structure out rather graphically, even numbering the ‘variantes’). Another interesting detail here is that Chopin originally intended to plunge straight into the melody, and only added the two-bar genre-defining introduction at a late stage, quite possibly at the moment he changed the title from Variantes to Berceuse. In some ways the work functions rather like a set of baroque ‘divisions’, but this scarcely does justice to the highly original treatment of the ornamental line. The key point is that the curve of complexity (ever more rapid filigree) remains divorced not just from the underlying harmonic progression (a simple repeating cycle) but also from the dynamic shape (a stable level, remaining in low dynamics throughout). What is original here is that the shape of the music—its sense of departure and return—is created almost entirely through texture and sonority. It is not hard to see why Debussy was so interested in the music of Chopin.
from notes by Jim Samson © 2009