Recorded on 04/17/2007, uploaded on 01/19/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Known throughout the English-speaking world as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” the familiar tune on which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s set of variations is based actually comes to us from 18th century France. Of unknown origin, the tune first appeared in print (without words) in Paris in 1761. It was originally believed that Mozart first heard the melody during the time he resided in Paris (an understandable assumption), placing the date of the composition during 1778. However, later analysis of the manuscript has suggested that Mozart composed the variations as early as 1781.
The French tune is stated in simple two-part harmony, allowing ample room for Mozart’s imagination to run free. Throughout each of the succeeding twelve variations, the harmony is enriched through the introduction of suspensions and chromatic chords. The variations also maintain the tune’s twenty-four-measure structure. In some, the melody itself is embellished, such as Variations I or III; in others, the tune is set against an embellished countermelody, such as Variation II or VI. Variations VIII (the only minor key variation) and IX introduce a brief point of imitation of the melody’s head motif, although in neither case does the imitation last more than a few bars. Variation XI slows the tempo to an Adagio and transforms the tune into a beautiful cantabile melody. The final variation shifts to triple meter and returns to an Allegro tempo. The tune, embellished with trills, is sounded over a tremolandi bass. After the completion of the melody, a brief coda of trills and scale passages brings the variations on such a beloved tune to an exciting close. Joseph DuBose
"Ah, vous dirai-je Maman" was a popular French folk song from the second half of the eighteenth-century. Mozart heard the song in Paris and probably composed these variations in 1781-2 in Vienna. The first several variations feature glittering passagework swirling around the theme. In the relatively dark Variation VIII, the theme is transformed into the minor key, before returning to a simple canon version (IX), which is followed by a full-textured orchestral version (Variation X). Next, the mournful Adagio variation (XI) offers a brief moment of repose before the brilliant final variation. Mimi Solomon
Courtesy of International Music Foundation.
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