Ah! vous dirai-je, maman

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"Ah! vous dirai-je, maman"

"Ah! vous dirai-je, maman" (French: [a vu diʁeʒ(ə) mamɑ̃], English: Oh! Shall I tell you, Mama) is a popular children's song in France. Since its composition in the 18th century, the melody has been applied to numerous lyrics in multiple languages – the English-language song "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" is one such example. It was adapted in Twelve Variations on "Ah vous dirai-je, Maman" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.


According to Henri-Irénée Marrou, the origin of the melody is an anonymous pastoral song dating from 1740, with children's lyrics added relatively recently.[1] The melody was first published in 1761.[2] In 1774, the earliest known printed publication of the lyrics together with the music was in volume two of Recueil de Romances by M.D.L. (Charles de Lusse [de]) published in Brussels, under the title "La Confidence naïve".[3][4]

Nursery rhyme[edit]

\header { tagline = ##f }
\score {
  \new Staff \with { \remove "Time_signature_engraver" }
  \new Voice = "melody"
  \relative c'' {
    \key c \major
    \time 4/4
    \tempo 4 = 135
    \override TupletBracket #'bracket-visibility = ##f 
     \repeat volta 2 {
     \partial 2
     c,4 c g' g a a g2 f4 f e e d d c2 \bar "||"
     g'4 g f f e e d2 g4 g f f e e d2 }
    \new Lyrics \lyricsto "melody" {
      Ah! vous di -- rai -- je, ma -- man, Ce qui cau -- se mon tour -- ment! Pa -- pa veut que je rai -- sonne, Comme u -- ne gran -- de per -- sonne. 
    \new Lyrics \lyricsto "melody" {
      Moi, je dis que les bon -- bons Va -- lent mieux que la rai -- son.
  \layout { \context { \remove "Metronome_mark_engraver" } } \midi {}

The French lyrics of the nursery rhyme exist in several variations, of which the following one is one of the most common versions.

Ah ! Vous dirai-je maman
Ce qui cause mon tourment?
Papa veut que je raisonne
Comme une grande personne
Moi je dis que les bonbons
Valent mieux que la raison.

Oh! Shall I tell you, Mama,
What is causing my torment?
Daddy wants me to reason
Like a big, big person,
But I say that candies,
Are worth more than the reason!

"La Confidence naïve"[edit]

"La Confidence naïve"

The lyrics of the nursery rhyme are a parody of the original lyrics, an anonymous love poem, "La Confidence naïve" ("The naive Confidence").[citation needed]

Ah ! vous dirai-je, maman,
Ce qui cause mon tourment ?
Depuis que j'ai vu Silvandre,[a]
Me regarder d'un air tendre ;
Mon cœur dit à chaque instant :
« Peut-on vivre sans amant ? »

L'autre jour, dans un bosquet,
De fleurs il fit un bouquet ;
Il en para ma houlette
Me disant : « Belle brunette,
Flore est moins belle que toi ;
L'amour moins épris que moi.

Étant faite pour charmer,
Il faut plaire, il faut aimer ;
C'est au printemps de son âge,
Qu'il est dit que l'on s'engage.
Si vous tardez plus longtemps,
On regrette ces moments. »

Je rougis et par malheur
Un soupir trahit mon cœur.
Le cruel avec adresse,
Profita de ma faiblesse :
Hélas, maman ! un faux pas
Me fit tomber dans ses bras.

Je n'avais pour tout soutien
Que ma houlette et mon chien.
L'amour, voulant ma défaite,
Écarta chien et houlette ;
Ah ! qu'on goûte de douceur,
Quand l'amour prend soin d'un cœur !

Ah! Shall I tell you, Mama,
What causes my torment?
Ever since I saw Silvandre
Look at me so tenderly,
My heart says every moment:
"Can we live without a lover?"

The other day, in a grove,
He made a bouquet of flowers;
He adorned my crook with it,
Telling me: "Beautiful brunette,
Flora is less beautiful than you;
Love less enamoured than me.

Being made to charm,
One must please, one must love;
It's in the spring of one's age
That it is said one should commit.
If you delay much longer,
One regrets these moments."

I blushed and unfortunately
A sigh betrayed my heart.
The cruel one skillfully
Took advantage of my weakness:
Alas, Mama! a misstep
Made me fall into his arms.

I had nothing to support me
But my crook and my dog.
Love, wanting my defeat,
Put aside my dog and crook;
Ah! That we taste sweetness,
When love takes care of a heart!

  1. ^ Variations of the male lover's name found around the same time are Sylvandre, Lysandre, and Clitandre.

Appearances of the melody[edit]

Many songs in various languages have been based on the "Ah! vous dirai-je, maman" melody. In English, "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star", the "Alphabet Song" and "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" are all based on this melody.

The German Christmas carol "Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann [de]" with words by Hoffmann von Fallersleben, also uses the melody, as does the Hungarian Christmas carol "Hull a pelyhes fehér hó [hu]", the Dutch "Altijd is Kortjakje ziek [nl]", the Spanish "Campanita del lugar [es]", the Greek "Φεγγαράκι μου λαμπρό", the Turkish "Daha Dün Annemizin" and the Swedish "Blinka lilla stjärna [sv]".

Several classical compositions have been inspired by this tune:


  1. ^ Henri Davenson (pseudonym of Henri-Irénée Marrou), Le livre des chansons, Neuchâtel, Éditions de la Baconnière, 1944, p. 567.
  2. ^ George List, "The Distribution of a Melodic Formula: Diffusion or Polygenesis?", Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council, v. 10, (1978), pp. 33–52
  3. ^ Charles de Lusse (1774). Recueil de romances historiques, tendres et burlesques, tant anciennes que modernes, avec les airs notés. Vol. 2. p. 75. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  4. ^ The chronology is based on an account by Bob Kosovsky, librarian at the Music Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, 2001.