Frère Jacques

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For the Eurovision Song Contest song, see Frère Jacques (Anne-Marie Besse song).
"Frère Jacques"
Frère Jacques.svg
Written France
Language French
Form Nursery rhyme

"Frère Jacques" (/ˌfrɛrə ˈʒɑːkə/, French pronunciation: ​[fʁɛʁ ʒɑk]) in English sometimes called "Are You Sleeping?," "Brother John" "I Hear Thunder" or "Brother Peter", is a French nursery melody. The song is traditionally sung in a round.

The song is about a monk, brother Jacob, who has overslept and is urged to stand up and (the clocks) the Matines thematins replaced.

In Flanders, the song is known as Brother Jacob, the literal translation of the French name Frère Jacques. The third rule is there: Hear the bells ring , while in the Netherlands all bells sing, what the original sentence does not display properly in both cases. A more literal Dutch translation would be loud bells . About this sound Play 


Tune for Frère Jacques

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Sheet music version

The original French version of the song is as follows:

Frère Jacques, frère Jacques,
Dormez-vous ? Dormez-vous ?
Sonnez les matines! Sonnez les matines!
Ding, daing, dong. Ding, daing, dong.

The song is traditionally translated into English as:

Are you sleeping, are you sleeping,
Brother John? Brother John?
Morning bells are ringing! Morning bells are ringing!
Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong.

A more literal translation of the French lyrics would be:

Brother Jacob, brother Jacob

Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping?
Ring the Matins bells! Ring the Matins bells!
Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong.

The translation of "Frère" would be "Friar" in this case, because this song is about Jacques, a religious monk. In English the word Friar is probably derived from the French word frère ("brother" in English), as French was still widely used in official circles in England during the 13th century when the four great orders of Friars started. The French word frère in turn comes from the Latin word frater (which also means "brother").

The Matins mentioned in the literal translation refers to the midnight or very early morning prayers for which a monk would be expected to wake.

Theories of origin[edit]

A possible connection between Frère Jacques and the 17th century lithotomist Frère Jacques Beaulieu (also known as Frère Jacques Baulot[1][2]), as claimed by Irvine Loudon[3] and many others, was explored by J. P. Ganem and C. C. Carson[4] without finding any evidence for a connection.

Francesca Draughon and Raymond Knapp argue that Frère Jacques originally was a song to taunt Jews or Protestants or Martin Luther (see Frère Jacques in popular culture).[5]

Martine David and A. Marie Delrieu suggest that Frère Jacques might have been created to mock the Dominican monks, known in France as the Jacobin order, for their sloth and comfortable lifestyles.[6]

In a review of a book about Kozma Prutkov, Richard Gregg notes it has been claimed that Frère Jacques Frère Jacques was derived from a Russian seminary song about a "Father Theofil".[7]

Published record[edit]

First publication[edit]

James Fuld (1995) states that the tune was first published in 1811,[8] and that the words and music were published together in Paris in 1869.[9] However, the words and music appear together in Recreations de l'enfance: Recueil de Rondes avec Jeux et de Petites Chansons pour Faire Jouer, Danser et Chanter les Enfants avec un Accompagnement de Piano Très-Facile by Charles Lebouc, which was first published in 1860 by Rouart, Lerolle & C. in Paris.[10] This book was very popular and it was republished several times, so many editions exist.

Allmusic states that the earliest printed version of the melody is on a French manuscript circa 1780 (manuscript 300 in the manuscript collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris). The manuscript is titled "Recueil de Timbres de Vaudevilles", and the Bibliothèque Nationale estimates that it was printed between 1775 and 1785. The Frère Jacques melody is labelled "Frère Blaise" in this manuscript.

Comparison with Fra Jacopino[edit]

Frère Jacques bears resemblance to the piece Toccate d'intavolatura, No.14, Capriccio Fra Jacopino sopra L'Aria Di Ruggiero composed by Girolamo Frescobaldi,[11] which was first published around 1615[12] - "Fra Jacopino" is one potential Italian translation for "Frère Jacques".[13] Edward Kilenyi pointed out that Fra Jacopino shares the same Frère Jacques-like melody as Chanson de Lambert, a French song dating from 1650, and a Hungarian folk tune.[14]

The Frère Jacques tune is one of the most basic repeating canons along with the melody of Three Blind Mice. It is also simple enough to have spread easily from place to place. For example, Barbara Mittler in a conference abstract points out that the melody of Frère Jacques is so thoroughly assimilated into Chinese culture that it might be widely regarded as a Chinese folksong in China.[15]

Cultural references[edit]

The song Frère Jacques often appears in popular culture. Frère Jacques is one of the most widely known songs in the world, and it can be found in many places.

Van Dyke Parks referenced this song in the fourth stanza of The Beach Boys' song Surf's Up: "Canvas the town and brush the backdrop, Are you sleeping, Brother John."


  1. ^ Jacques BAULOT
  2. ^ Un célèbre lithotomiste franc-comtois : Jacques Baulot dit Frère Jacques (1651-1720), E. Bourdin, Besançon, 1917
  3. ^ Western Medicine, Irvine Loudon, Oxford University Press, Dec 1, 2001, ISBN 0-19-924813-3
  4. ^ Frère Jacques Beaulieu: from rogue lithotomist to nursery rhyme character, Ganem JP, Carson CC, J Urol. 1999 Apr;161(4):1067-9.
  5. ^ Mahler and the Crisis of Jewish Identity by Francesca Draughon and Raymond Knapp, ECHO volume III, issue 2 (Fall 2001)
  6. ^ Refrains d'enfants, histoire de 60 chansons populaires, Martine David, A. Marie Delrieu, Herscher, 1988.
  7. ^ Review of Koz'ma Prutkov: The Art of Parody by Barbara Heldt Monter, reviewed by Richard Gregg, Slavic Review, Vol. 33, No. 2 (Jun., 1974), pp. 401-402.
  8. ^ La Cle du Caveau a l'usage de tous les Chansonniers francais, Paris, 1811
  9. ^ The Book of World Famous Music Classical, Popular, and Folk', James J. Fuld, 1995, Dover Publications, Inc., ISBN 0-486-28445-X
  10. ^ the C. stands for Cie., which in English would be Co. or Company
  11. ^ Frescobaldi: Harpsichord Works, composer: Jacques Arcadelt, Girolamo Frescobaldi; Performer: Louis Bagger. Audio CD (August 28, 2001)
  12. ^ Frescobaldi: Toccate & Partite, Libro Primo, Todd M. McComb
  13. ^ Fra Jacopino has additional historical importance. The half note and quarter note are reported to have first appeared in Frescobaldi's publication of Fra Jacopino.
  14. ^ The Theory of Hungarian Music, Edward Kilenyi, Musical Quarterly, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Jan., 1919), pp. 20-39
  15. ^ From Mozart to Mao to Mozart--Western Music in Modern China, Barbara Mittler, Rethinking cultural revolution culture, Heidelberg, 22-24.2.2001

External links[edit]