In this series so far, we’ve learned that our Twinkle tune had its beginnings in Renaissance Europe.
It spread like a family tree, with one branch diverging from the original minor into major. It was from these major variants that one of the most familiar tunes in the world emerged: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
There evolved in Europe two parallel streams of the tune (major and minor) that were played, sung, passed along and adapted. This part of the series focuses on new minor adaptations in the 1800s.
By the 19th century, the original roots of the minor tune were completely forgotten. This music that had spread far and wide across Europe in previous centuries was now so old that its origins escaped the living memories of the people who continued to adapt it into new settings.
In some adoptive countries, our tune had been sung for so long that it became naturalized. In these countries, because the music was so loved, it came to symbolize a deep connection to each individual homeland. This was in step with the larger currents of 19th century nationalism.
Two 19th century composers, Smetana of Czechia and Saint-Saëns of France, used variants of the melody, both believing it was the folk music of their own people. Although we’ll be focusing on settings by composers in a future post, these works are included here because they were written to express nationalism.
In other countries it was still understood to be an old tune from elsewhere, and it was believed that the tune came from Holland or France.
This is Part VI of the Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star series. Before you read this instalment, it’s highly recommended that you read all of the instalments thus far, starting with Part I:
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star Part I: The ultimate guide to this tune in our culture We embark on this multi-part series with an overview that launches the entire body of research. Here is a bird’s-eye view of the full Twinkle journey.
Sweden: Risingevisan, Ölin (1800)
By the year 1800, a minor variant of our migrant tune had been sung in Sweden for more than a century.
Some believed that the music originated in Holland, from the Dutch tune O, Nederland! Let op u saeck, from the 16th century.
It was brought to Sweden’s Östergötland region in the late 1600s by the Dutch, or by the Walloons (a group of people from the south and east of Belgium who speak a French dialect). It is believed that Swedish blacksmiths were the first to pick it up, and it spread further afield from them.
The Swedish variant was picked up in 1800 by Anders Ölin, a youth from Olstorp village in Risinge, which he set to his own text. His song, Risingevisan, first printed in 1806, expressed his sentiments on life in his early teens.
The Swedish music, itself, (both Risingevisan and Värmlandsvisan variants) supports the theory that it is descended from the Belgian song Ik zag Cecilia komen (or a common predecessor).
- It remains in the original minor tonality like the Belgian tune.
- Embedded in the Swedish music are artefacts in common with the melody and rhythm of Ik zag Cecilia komen.
- It begins on an upbeat like the Belgian variant.
- Some of the rhythms have a long-short lilt (the dotted-eighth-sixteenth notes) and suggest a carryover from the influence of Ik zag Cecilia komen.
- As the A tune makes its general descent in measures 5-8, it doesn’t take a direct path downwards as other variants do; it sometimes meanders back up, just as the Belgian tune does.
It also differs from Ik zag Cecilia komen in some respects.
- The Swedish variant simply repeats the opening tune (AA), whereas the Belgian tune has no known repeat of the A tune in the first section.
- This Swedish tune omits the main Belgian B section (the one with the Dorian raised note) and goes straight to music that seems to be derived from Ik zag Cecilia komen‘s connecting couplet, which becomes a short B section. This does not repeat.
- The Östergötland region’s Risingevisan variant differs from all other European variants in that the melody notes are interspersed with rests, making the tune sound like a collection of melodic islands.
The overall form is AABA (with a truncated B).
The jazz version, Dear Old Stockholm, is divided in influence between Risingevisan and the other Swedish variation that we’ll be exploring next, Värmlandsvisan. Miles Davis and John Coltrane favour Risingevisan, omitting the leading tone and interspersing the melody notes with the rests that are unique to this regional version. This injects their interpretations with energy.
Sweden: Värmlandsvisan, Fryxell (1822)
If you asked someone from the Swedish region of Värmland to name their regional anthem, they’d likely say Värmlandsvisan and may even sing it by heart. Translated, the original Swedish title means, “Oh Värmland, You Lovely”.
In 1822 Swedish historian Anders Fryxell wrote text for a song about Värmland for his musical Vermlandsflickan (The Värmlandian Girl). He set it to a familiar tune, the Swedish variant.
In Sweden, some believe that the melody is “…an anonymous treasure of the Swedish folksong tradition and is believed to have been passed on since at least the early 1700s.”
The Värmlandsvisan variant also contains artefacts which suggest it is derived from the Belgian Ik zag Cecilia komen. The upbeat, the rhythms that have a long-short lilt and the meandering descent of the second phrase all attest to this origin.
- The single stand-out feature of the Värmlandsvisan melody that differentiates it from all other variants is the stunning jump to the raised seventh (F# in this notation), and its sudden deflection upwards to the 2nd scale degree and delayed arrival on the upper tonic. This resembles appoggiaturas in 18th-century Classical music. This feature makes this one my secret favourite.
Although at first sight the B section melody seems different, hidden inside are the four descending notes which are to become Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’s B section (scale degrees 5-4-3-2). This is a clue that these notes were embedded in the original.
The Swedish variation Värmlandsvisan is the bases for Dear Old Stockholm covers by many greats, including artists like Stan Getz. His languid interpretation flows note to note, with the absence of rests and added melancholy of the leading tone, which is unique to this variant.
France: Rhapsodie bretonne, Op. 7b, Saint-Saëns (1866)
Camille Saint-Saëns quotes our wandering minor tune in the 3rd Movement of Rhapsodie bretonne.
On a holiday trip to Rennes in Brittany (a region of France), Saint-Saëns went out on a boat and enjoyed a spontaneous concert by the sea captain, who performed tunes on an oboe.
“During the trip he played the tunes of his country, those airs with a character at once so savage and so charming. They are such a welcome change from our too-refined music, and refresh the soul like a salty breeze.”
In 1866, Saint-Saëns penned three of the tunes he heard on that trip for the organ. He named the work “Rhapsodies sur des cantiques bretons, Op. 7″, believing the melodies to be traditional and local in Brittany. Then, in 1891 he reworked the first and third movements for orchestra.
It is no doubt that Saint-Saëns was familiar with the folk tune Ah! vous dirai-je, maman, but because it was so vastly different from the tune that he heard in Brittany, that he didn’t connect them. To him, this was an entirely new piece.
- This variant begins on the beat with the ascending steps from tonic to dominant (scale degrees 1-2-3-4-5).
- The melody reaches only to the sixth degree of the scale, then retreats back down one scale degree per measure.
- Although the notes in this variant are longer, it’s interesting that there is still a long-short lilt, which suggests a deep connection to an historic variation like the Belgian Ik zag Cecilia komen.
- The B section consists of the framework of four descending notes (scale degrees 5-4-3-2), which repeat. This is very similar to the simplified version in Ah! vous dirai-je, maman and even further back, to the shape of the couplet tune in Ik zag Cecilia komen.
There are several additional features of Rhapsodie bretonne which bear mentioning. First, it is one of the longest variants, finishing at 46 measures. The structure of the tune is AABACA’A’ (the last two As are rounded, not complete).
The first time I heard it compared to the other folk and national settings, I thought Saint-Saëns was flexing as a composer, embellishing what he’d actually heard from the oboe-playing sea captain. I couldn’t imagine that a folk tune could be that long or complex. But when analyzed next to all of the other folk settings, there are so many cross references as to make it believable that this was the tune that Saint-Saëns heard.
- The C, not seen before, skips upwards twice on the G minor chord. In Czechia only eight years later, Smetana wrote a nearly identical repeated figure from folk music he collected for Vltava.
- The C section finishes with downward-running eighths from the upper tonic, reminiscent of the opening of the B tune in Italy’s La Mantovana. Moreover, this ending is strikingly similar to the melody line that ends the B sections in the Romanian variants (studied below), Luncile s-au desteptat and Carul cu boi.
- Like Luncile s-au desteptat and Carul cu boi, the entire tune finishes with a rounded return to A’A’, the repeated ending of the original A tune.
By the tempo of Saint-Saëns’s arrangement, we can gather that the oboe performance he heard was slow, sincere and heartfelt.
Czechia: Vltava (The Moldau), Smetana (1874)
Bedřich Smetana aspired to capture the love of his homeland in a symphonic suite which he composed throughout the 1870s. He wanted to create a series of pieces that drew “musical pictures of Czech glories and defeats.” When he was finished, he had produced Má vlast, a collection of self-standing symphonic poems.
In 1874 he completed the symphonic poem Vltava, in which he paints the flow of the great river which runs through his country. The main theme is a quote of our minor migrant melody.
It is almost certain that the Czech folk music upon which Smetana based his symphonic poem was descended from the Belgian Ik zag Cecilia komen or from a common predecessor.
- Like Ik zag Cecilia komen, it begins on an upbeat prior to its five-note ascent through scale degrees 1-2-3-4-5.
- Also like the Belgian tune, Smetana’s symphonic poem has a long-short rhythmic lilt.
- Moreover, the descending tune even wavers upwards as it did in Ik zag Cecilia komen, even though it’s only for one moment.
- Smetana’s B section is based on the music of his A section, with two long ascending lines. This bears no resemblance to the B section of any other variant. It is unknown whether he devised this himself or whether it was based on folk music.
One motif is very interesting, as it is very similar to one which appeared in Saint-Saëns’s Rhapsodie bretonne. Both composers used it twice in succession. This musical figure is unusual (not heard in other variants). Is it from a common folk variant which travelled to both France and Czechia, or had Smetana heard a performance of Saint-Saëns’s organ piece and, under his influence, folded this musical idea into his own music?
Another quirk worth mentioning is the return to the A theme, but this time with a major third (here shown with the B-natural). This deviation to the major hearkens to Czechia’s other folk variant, Kočka leze dírou, pes oknem, completely in the major tonality, and of the major folk tune in Kucheriava Katerina from nearby Ukraine.
Romania: Luncile s-au desteptat, folk
In Romania, our migratory minor tune became two national folk songs that are still sung today.
The first is a folk song called Luncile s-au desteptat. Its century of origin is unknown. It is a song about May, the coming of spring and the unfolding of green leaves.
Here’s a translation:
The meadows have woken up, green peony leaf
Dear coat they put on, green peony leaf,
As arrived on our plain, green peony leaf,
The kingdom of May days, green peony leaf…” etc.
The notation of the opening tune below shows the five ascending steps characteristic of so many versions of the minor tune. It was taken from the recording above.
However, several older recordings resemble the more simplified Romanian melody of Carul cu boi (the Romanian folk song to be explored next).
This makes me wonder if the simplified Romanian melody is indeed the original regional variant, with the steps newly re-introduced only after a modern cross-cultural influence from other related tunes.
The Romanian tune is straightforward, almost brash.
- It follows the expected contour, but in a new twist, shoots mischievously to the upper tonic. Ukraine’s variant, Kucheriava Katerina, has a similar leap to this same note, but a measure later.
- It resembles the French Ah! vous dirai-je, maman! in that many of the tones are simply repeated, with fewer stepping eighth-note embellishments when compared with other geographically nearby variants.
- The First tune (A) is repeated.
The second melody (B), resembles bygone 17th-century variants.
- It features the upper tonic note. The early Baroque variants actually started on this note, whereas the Romanian variant leaps the octave.
- It then steps down four notes (but without the original colouring of the Dorian E-natural).
- Unlike other variants, this short music clip repeats.
With repeats, Luncile s-au desteptat is in rounded binary form: AABA’BA’.
- The repeated rounded A’ acts like closing material with two phrases, a question phrase (the melody goes up and sounds unfinished) and an answer phrase (the melody goes down and sounds finished).
Romania: Carul cu boi, folk
The Romanian folk song, Carul cu boi seems to be a folk song from the late 19th- or early 20th-century, given that the lyrics refer to electricity and trains. For this reason, it is most likely that the words of Luncile s-au desteptat are older.
The lyrics “To the left, to the right” refer to the verbal commands a farmer would give to a team of oxen. This is a charming, nostalgic folk song that longs for simpler days.
Here is a translation:
Train tracks and steams
Everything went smoothly
Because the elders were carefree
They were leading the ox-driven cart
To the left, to the right! To the left, to the right!
To the left, to the right! To the left, to the right!
Today we fly on the train’s tracks
In boxy wagons
We arrive with broken heads
Famished and frozen
It’s better to lead an ox-driven cart
Than to have so many worries
To the left, to the right! To the left, to the right!
To the left, to the right! To the left, to the right!
The opening notes of Carul cu boi are a unique variation in Europe. France’s Ah! vous dirai-je, maman! is the only other cultural variant to simplify the opening notes into leaps rather than the upward-running steps.
The opening of the B section is nearly identical to the other Romanian variant, Luncile s-au desteptat.
- The tune leaps up a full octave to the upper tonic note.
- From the upper tonic, the tune then steps down to the fifth degree of the scale. In this way it somewhat resembles the downward-stepping opening of the B tune in La Mantovana.
- This four-measure pattern repeats in both Romanian variants.
The main difference between Romania’s two folk variants is the the handling of the ending.
- Whereas Luncile s-au desteptat repeats the B section plus the rounded return to A (for an overall structure of AABA’BA’), Carul cu boi repeats only the rounded return to A (for an overall structure of AABA’A’).
- Whereas Luncile s-au desteptat keeps swift-running rhythms through to the end, Carul cu boi changes the rhythm by making the notes longer (augmented rhythm).
Israel: Hatikvah, adapted by Cohen (1887)
There were two creators at the heart of Hatikvah, the song that was destined to become Israel’s national anthem.
First, in 1877 Jewish poet Naftali Herz Imber wrote the poem with words “Lashuv le’eretz avotenu” (to return to the land of our forefathers), which expressed the hopes of many.
A decade later, in 1887, a young man named Shmuel Cohen saw the emotional reaction of Jewish farmers of Rishon LeZion when they heard Imber’s poem. Cohen had a background in music and knew the minor tune from Romania (introduced above). He sang Imber’s poem to it and from that point forward, the words and music together gave voice to their hope of a homeland.
The Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah, was intentionally adapted from the Romanian folk music mentioned above. One might think, then that it would have the same melody. But Hatikvah, itself, may have become altered after a time that it was suppressed, when Smetana’s Czechian Vltava was performed instead, in defiance.
Through that period of time, the ascending steps in the opening melody of Vltava may have changed how Hatikvah was sung.
As all of the oldest recordings of the Romanian folk songs skip up in thirds and none ascend in stepwise motion, it is my theory that the original Hatikvah was also originally sung with upward thirds. Only pre-suppression recordings could prove it either way.
- Like Smetana’s Vltava, Hatikvah‘s A melody ascends with upward steps.
- Like both Romanian variants, Hatikvah‘s A melody leaps to the upper tonic in the third measure.
- Like both Romanian variants, Hatikvah‘s A melody ends with the same eighth-note figure.
- Like both Romanian variants, Hatikvah‘s A melody repeats.
- Hatkivah‘s four-measure B tune repeats, identical to these measures in both Romanian vairants.
The ending is where Hatkivah is influenced by each Romanian variant differently.
- Hatkivah takes its melodic structure from Carul cu boi. Like Carul cu boi, it doesn’t repeat B, it repeats only the rounded A question and answer phrases, for an overall structure of AABA’A’.
- Hatkivah takes its rhythm from Luncile s-au desteptat. Like Luncile s-au desteptat, it keeps the running eighth rhythms to the end and does not elongate the notes as did Carul cu boi.
- There is one feature unique to Hatkivah alone (found in no other variant), and that is the altered first note of the first A’ phrase, the natural seventh degree of the scale. Together with the next pitch, it has a descending interval of a fifth, scale degrees 7-2, which changes the chord structure here.
As I processed the information for this post, it became apparent to me that every version here comes from music that has been sung and passed on for centuries, aurally, in what may be a straight unbroken line back to the original. None of the folk or nationalist versions were relayed musician to musician by the written note alone, but by the sound of the music, itself.
The significance of this may transform our performance concept of the Italian madrigal, Fuggi, fuggi, fuggi.
So far, every performance I’ve ever heard of the Italian music has been fast, upbeat and impetuous. The words Fuggi, fuggi, fuggi fly along on swift wings. But what if this interpretation is incorrect?
For centuries, the Italian madrigal and dances lay silently in handwritten notation, not performed, not passed on musician to musician. Then one day, modern musicians revived the music and tried to recreate it in a performance style that they imagined it would have had historically. The music they made was upbeat, with drums and a fast tempo.
But from the western sea coast of France to the riverbanks of Czechia, from the bell towers of Ghent to the lakes of Värmland, the same music was sung or played with a slow, heartfelt tempo, with longing like the inner cry of someone who clings to hope.
We know this because the composers who wrote their nationalist symphonic works collected the folk music they heard. And by the 19th century, composers were able to assign specific tempos to their works with reference metronomic indications.
If only one variant had this slow tempo, we might conclude that perhaps one musician or culture had spun it to sound that way. But the fact that the music is so universally performed with a melancholic interpretation from culture to culture, says something to me about the way it must have sounded originally.
It is now my belief that Fuggi, fuggi, fuggi was sung sadly, and that its slow, minor melodies gripped the listeners’ hearts. La Mantovana, the dance, may have been a slow and stately dance. I believe that it spread further because it touched an emotional chord in people, inspiring them to sing it again and again and take it with them wherever they went.
Perhaps performing Fuggi, fuggi, fuggi and its contemporary Italian dances with a fast tempo is as inaccurate as it would be to play a Chopin nocturne in the style of ragtime.
I believe that if musicians picked up their instruments and tried the Italian variants with the same longing that we hear in the music that spread across the rest of Europe, that the result would be stunning, breathtaking and unforgettable.
More to explore!
This is the sixth instalment of a series of blog posts on this seemingly universal melody. Join me as I continue through time and across the European continent (and beyond) in search of more versions and variations.
This melody’s scope of influence cannot be underestimated. It would be difficult to find a child or adult from a western country (or even a country that is influenced by western music) who has not heard, sung or played this tune.
If you’d like to compare the seven melodies mentioned in this post, Risingevisan, Värmlandsvisan, Rhapsodie bretonne, Vltava, Luncile s-au desteptat, Carul cu boi, and Hatikvah, you’ll find the music in my printables section in the section called Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
Watch for more!
We embark on this multi-part series with an overview that launches the entire body of research. Did you know that the first version of Twinkle was minor? Here is a bird’s-eye view of the full Twinkle journey. We begin at the beginning. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star Part I: The ultimate guide to this tune in our culture
Discover the late Renaissance/early-Baroque Italian versions of one of the world’s most-loved melodies, with music samples from 17th century Italy. Here’s the next chapter of the story as we know it. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star Part II: Then there was a madrigal in Italy [Printables] Coming soon!
Musicians carried the Italian variant far afield when they travelled Europe for employment. Here is a collection of next generation variants from 17th century Europe. These early international adopters launched a cascade effect of countless iterations of the tune throughout Europe for centuries to come. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star Part III: 17th-c spread throughout Europe [Printables] Coming soon!
As the original tune began to transform in folk circles, which features were kept and which were lost? And where in Europe did the original minor tune first become major and begin its transformation into the Twinkle tune we all know? It’s all explored in this post! Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star Part IV: From minor it branches into the major key [Printables]
Discover the transformation from the original florid melody to the simple tune of France’s Ah! vous dirai-je, maman and composers’ variations on it, beginning with Mozart. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star Part V: Mozart, a French folk song and beyond [Printables]
In several countries this tune was adopted as a national theme. Compare the versions that emerged. Which features of the original music were retained and how did the music change as it travelled? Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star Part VI: Twinkle as 19th-c national songs in countries far and wide [Printables]
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star became a source of inspiration of master composers, who borrowed it into their major works. Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saëns, Dohnányi and more all fell under its spell. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star Part VII: Twinkle is borrowed by master composers [Printables] Coming soon!
In time, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star emerged from earlier folk settings and continued to be borrowed into beloved children’s songs in an ever-expanding tradition of folk music. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star Part VIII: A folk tune becomes children’s songs in many languages [Printables] Coming soon!
Even popular musicians have come under the influence of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and have woven its tune into their melodies. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star Part IX: Twinkle is borrowed into popular songs [Printables] Coming soon!
Do you like this post and want more? In the side menu click “follow” to get notifications of my posts in your inbox.
I appreciate shares, comments and likes. Happy teaching! ❤
Video of the Week
Composed in 1990 at the age of 16, this is the second Twinkle variation of a set composed by Rebekah Maxner. The set was entered in the Nova Scotia Music Educators’ Association’s Young Composer’s Contest and won first prize. “Move over, Mozart!” exclaimed the teacher who presented the award.
I always felt this variation resembled Smetana’s The Moldau as much as Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. What I didn’t know was that The Moldeau and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star are both descended from the same music.