Monday, March 23, 2009

"Cancion de cuna para dormir a un negrito" by Montsalvatge

Composer:Xavier Montsalvatge (1912-2002)
Cradle Song for a small black child
From Cinco Canciones Negras
Text: Rafael Alberti
Teresa Berganza, soprano; Felix Lavilla, piano
Aix-en-provence festival 18 July 1964


Ninghe, ninghe, ninghe, so tiny,
the little black child that doesn't want to sleep.
Head of coconut, grain of coffee,
with pretty freckles, with eyes wide open
like two windows that overlook the sea.

Close your tiny eyes, frightened little black boy;
the white boogey-man can eat you up.
You're no longer are slave! And if you sleep a lot
the master of the house promises to buy you
a suit with buttons, so you can be a "groom."

Ninghe, ninghe, ninghe, sleep little black child,
head of coconut, grain of coffee.

Translations from
Lied and Art Song Page


  1. I love that this song is a lullaby, but at the same time uses a habanera as its basis. You can really hear the exported Cuban influences; but at the same time, it is subtle and doesn't interfere with the tender song being sung to the child.
    Also, Teresa Berganza is fabulous! I love how expressive, yet gentle, her performance is.

  2. I agree! This is an absolutely lovely lullaby! Berganza's beautiful, liquid voice seems to flow effortlessly. The gentle, yet supportive accompaniment seems to 'imitate' the rocking of the cradle. I was quite intrigued by the surrounding atmosphere; the huge candles and the exotic looking leaves in the back ground. I also loved the sweet ending with Berganza leaning forward into the cradle/piano.

  3. I love Teresa Berganza's movements and gestures. They always seem understated, but with complete expressive power and conviction. I mean this in a more introverted and subtle way. I don't know Montsalvatge's music very well but he presents a very interesting musical conflict early in the piece(around 0.10-0.20) that seems to be resolved later. It sounds like bitonality. Perhaps this is illustrating the conflict of the child not sleeping or something else that could be fearful(boogey-man). Thoughts?

  4. I would agree with Matthew about the illustration of the conflict inherent in that part. It seems to me like a clear illustration of word painting. The singer's expression at that point certainly seems to point to that explanation. That is not necessarily a part of the lullaby but a little dig by whoever was singing the lullaby to get the child to close their eyes.

  5. I continue to really enjoy Berganza's voice! Her sound really embodies the intimacy of the moment of singing a lullaby to a baby, but also truly shows the Cuban influences in the lullaby. Her overall sound is rich, warm, and inviting to listen to. Her hard work truly sounds effortless!

  6. What a pretty song, and Barganza has such an easy, warm voice. After a few listens, the startling chords at the beginning grew on me, and I was able to develop my own story line to explain why he made have used those chords. As jarring as those first few measures are, I could not imagine the rest piece being as effective without that turmoil at the beginning.

  7. I just found your blog on a google search of the Canciones Negras. I'm performing them on my recital in April, and I'm scouring the internet for alternate translations to the one printed in the score. says that these English translations are copyright. Where did you get yours? Would you be willing to send them to me?

  8. This piece is stunning. The lullaby is intimate and earthy and the dotted rhythms in the bass of the piano part inspire a gentle rocking feeling in a subtle, almost sensual way.

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  10. This piece, while a lullaby, is still oozing sensuality! I'm loving listening to the unbridled passion that is Teresa Berganza's performances. I just get wholly swept away in her interpretations. I was searching for the right word while listening and you hit right on the head, Abby: sensual and earthy.

  11. I love the placement of a really calm and tonal melodic line up against a sometimes distressful and dissonant piano. Most of the time the piano rocks gently on dotted rhythms, but occasionally Montsalvatge uses these extreme dissonances that illustrate a sense of unrest; I imagine this is the fear of the child. The dissonance slowly disappears as the lullaby goes on, leaving the listener with the sense of rocking back and forth on the dotted rhythms in the piano.

  12. The fluidity of this piece is present in many of the elements, from the legato vocal line, to the sway of the rhythm, to the slight chromatic shifts in the harmony. No one element seems to stick out in a jarring way for us, which brings out the feeling of lullaby. There is an effortlessness about this particular performance as well which highlights all of the compositional tools that Monsalvatge used in writing this beautiful piece.

  13. Initially, this song gave me the impression that it was influenced by jazz or the sound world of Gershwin. Parts of it also reminded me of Barber (A Monk and his cat) and even some sweet melodic sounds of Poulenc. I appreciate the sweet rocking quality created by the habanera rhythm.

  14. When I first saw the title "Cradle Song", I was expecting a song similar to Falla's "Nana". However, this song sounds more like a slow habanera to me. And the harmonies in the piano part add some jazz elements to the music. I really like Teresa Berganza's warm and expressive tone.

  15. I definitely hear the jazz influence in this piece. The beginning could have been a Bill Evans improvisation, and as it progresses, sounds more like Ahmad Jamal.

  16. I really hear such an interesting combination of elements in this piece. It sounds like a lullaby but with a soft jazz influence. It is really a captivating and comforting piece that lulls me into a state of relaxation.