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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.[1]



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.[2] The melody was first published in 1761.[3] 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) published in Brussels, under the title "La Confidence naïve".[4][5]

Nursery rhyme


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  \new Voice = "melody"
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      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.
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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 person,
But I say that candies,
Are worth more than reason!

"La Confidence naïve"

"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").[6]

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


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" all use 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. ^ Fuld, James J. (2000) [1966]. The Book of World-famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk (5th ed.). Dover Publications. pp. 593–594. ISBN 9780486414751.
  2. ^ Henri Davenson (pseudonym of Henri-Irénée Marrou), Le livre des chansons, Neuchâtel, Éditions de la Baconnière, 1944, p. 567.
  3. ^ George List, "The Distribution of a Melodic Formula: Diffusion or Polygenesis?", Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council, v. 10, (1978), pp. 33–52
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "How the Melody of "Ah! vous dirai-je, maman" Spread to the World". Galaxy Music Notes. Retrieved 2023-03-23.