On Air Now
Smooth Classics with Myleene Klass 10pm - 1am
2 August 2021, 13:06 | Updated: 6 August 2021, 12:55
We unpack the origins and history of one of the most enduringly popular children’s songs ever written.
‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ is a popular lullaby, with straightforward lyrics and a memorable melody.
But who wrote it, and what do the lyrics mean?
‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ is based on a 19th-century English poem, written by Jane Taylor.
The poem, which is called ‘The Star’, is in couplet form so lends itself well to a simple children’s song. It was first published in 1806 in Rhymes for the Nursery, a collection by Jane Taylor and her sister Ann.
The melody is from the 1761 French tune, ‘Ah! vous dirai-je, maman’ (‘Oh! Shall I tell you, Mama’), also a popular children’s song.
It is usually in C major when used for ‘Twinkle Twinkle’, and the tune is heard in other children’s songs, including ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’.
Classical composer Mozart wrote his own version of ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ when he penned ‘Twelve Variations on Ah vous dirai-je, Maman’, for solo piano.
Other classical music has been based on the ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ melody, including the second movement of Haydn’s Symphony No. 94 ‘Surprise’, ‘Ah! vous dirai-je, mama’ from Liszt’s Album leaf, and as a quote in Saint-Säens’ ‘Fossils’ from The Carnival of the Animals.
While the first stanza of ‘The Star’ is usually heard in the lullaby ‘Twinkle Twinkle’, there are actually five stanzas of the poem that can be sung to the melody.
They are as follow:
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.
When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.
Then the trav’ller in the dark,
Thanks you for your tiny spark,
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.
In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often thro’ my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye,
Till the sun is in the sky.
‘Tis your bright and tiny spark,
Lights the trav’ller in the dark,
Tho’ I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
In his 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Caroll created a parody of ‘Twinkle Twinkle’, with that resplendent star swapped out for a bat:
Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you're at!
Up above the world you fly,
Like a teatray in the sky.
The poem is recited by the Mad Hatter in chapter seven of the book.
And an adaption of the song in an album called Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music from Outer Space swaps ‘star’ for ‘Earth’ in the song, to represent ‘star people’ surveying Earth from their particular vantage point.