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, which has had numerous lyrics on different themes since its composition in the 18th century. This song 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. The melody was first published in 1761. 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".
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
Oh! Shall I tell you, Mama,
"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").
Ah ! vous dirai-je, maman,
Ah! Shall I tell you, Mama,
^* 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" are all based on this melody.
The German Christmas carol "Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann" with words by Hoffmann von Fallersleben, also uses the melody, as does the Hungarian Christmas carol "Hull a pelyhes fehér hó", the Dutch "Altijd is Kortjakje ziek", the Spanish "Campanita del lugar", the Greek "Φεγγαράκι μου λαμπρό" and the Turkish "Daha Dün Annemizin".
Several classical compositions have been inspired by this tune:
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Twelve Variations on "Ah vous dirai-je, Maman" (K. 265 / K. 300e) (1781 or 1782)
- Michel Corrette (Variations on) "Ah! Vous dirais-je, maman" from La Belle Vielleuse (1783)
- Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, Variations on "Ah vous dirai-je maman" in G major (Wf XII: 2) (BR A 45) (Composed around 1785/90; 1st publ. ca. 1880)
- Joseph Haydn, Symphony No. 94 (Surprise Symphony), second movement (andante) (1792)
- Jean-Baptiste Cardon (1760–1803), Variations for harp on "Ah! vous dirai-je, maman"
- Ferdinando Carulli, (1770-1841) Three Solos with Variations for Guitar, Op. 60, No. 3, c. 1812
- Theodor von Schacht (1748–1823), 3rd movement (Allegretto con variazioni) of his clarinet concerto in B flat major
- Franz Liszt, Album Leaf: "Ah! vous dirai-je, maman" (1833) (S.163b)
- Christian Heinrich Rinck, Variations and finale for organ on "Ah! vous dirai-je, maman", op. 90 (pub. 1828)
- Adolphe Adam, Bravura Variations from the opera Le toréador (1849)
- Camille Saint-Saëns, The Carnival of the Animals (1886), 12th movement (Fossiles) quotes the tune
- Ernst von Dohnányi, Variations on a Nursery Tune, Op. 25 (1914)
- Erwin Schulhoff, Ten Variations on "Ah! vous dirai-je, maman" and Fugue, Op. 16 (1914)
- Harl McDonald, Children's Symphony, 2nd theme of 1st movement ("Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" variant) (1948)
- Xavier Montsalvatge, 3rd movement (Allegretto) of Sonatine pour Yvette (1962)
- John Corigliano, The Mannheim Rocket (2000)
- Henri Davenson (pseudonym of Henri-Irénée Marrou), Le livre des chansons, Neuchâtel, Éditions de la Baconnière, 1944, p. 567.
- George List, "The Distribution of a Melodic Formula: Diffusion or Polygenesis?", Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council, v. 10, (1978), pp. 33–52
- de Lusse (1774). Recueil de romances historiques, tendres et burlesques, tant anciennes que modernes, avec les airs notés. 2. p. 75. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
- 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