Mama Lisa's World
International Music & Culture
A place for poems, songs, rhymes and traditions from around the world for both kids and grown-ups to enjoy!

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People all around the world are familiar with the tune to Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. It’s at least 245 years old! The tune is originally from France and it was first seen in print in Paris in 1761 – though the current song, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star didn’t exist back then.

In the 1770’s, a poem called, Ah! Vous dirai-je Maman (Ah! Will I tell you, Mother), was set to the Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star tune and printed. The poem was a melodramatic love poem.

Later, a parody of the love song developed. It was also called Ah! Vous dirai-je Maman. This one is still loved by French children today:

Listen to Ah! Vous dirai-je Maman

Ah! Vous dirai-je Maman
(French)

Ah! Vous dirai-je Maman
Ce qui cause mon tourment ?
Papa veut que je raisonne
Comme une grande personne
Moi je dis que les bonbons
Valent mieux que la raison.

Ah! Will I tell you, Mommy
(English)

Ah! Will I tell you, Mommy
What is tormenting me?
Daddy wants me to reason
Like a grown up person
Me, I say that sweets
Are worth more than reason.

In 1781-2 Mozart wrote his Variations on “Ah vous dirais-je, Maman”. Many people think he wrote the tune to Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. He didn’t! He just created a wonderful piece based on the tune.

We have to travel over to England in 1806 to find the origins of the lyrics of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. That’s when Jane Taylor and her sister Ann published their second book of poems for children, called Rhymes for the Nursery. Jane wrote the poem, The Star, for the book. This is the poem the song is based on:

The Star

The Poem by Jane Taylor

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 traveler 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 through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye,
Till the sun is in the sky.

As your bright and tiny spark,
Lights the traveller in the dark,-
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

It’s a bit of a mystery when the poem and the tune came together to form the wonderful song Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. It seems like the first time they’re seen in print as a song was in 1838, in a book called The Singing Master. Here’s the song as children sing it in English today:

Listen to Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky!
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!

The wonderful song has traveled around the world in many languages. You can find it in Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Turkish and many other languages. If you’d like to share a version from your country, please email me.

Many thanks to Isa Santoveña for the midi tune, to Monique Palomares for the translation of Ah! Vous dirai-je Maman, and to Tiphaine Woerth for singing Ah! Vous dirai-je Maman for us!

-Lisa

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44 Responses to “The Origin of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”

  1. Mandy Says:

    hey,
    I am a music student and the origin of the tune to twinkle twinkle little star was actually written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart when he was 4 years of age. He wrote it for his sister.

  2. Mandy Says:

    haha i re read what it said above. My music texts say that he did write it but if you have better resources… lol

  3. Lisa Says:

    Two of my books say the tune to Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star is originally French.

    One book is called The Songs We Sang by Theodore Raph. It was 1st published in 1964 by Thomas Yoseloff Ltd. in England.

    The other book I have, called The Great Song Thesaurus by Roger Lax and Frederick Smith, was published in 1984 by Oxford University Press.

    It says that the music was traditional from France. It lists Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star with Ah! Vous dirai-je Maman. It also says it first appeared in 1765. It says that Baa Baa Black Sheep has the same tune as it, as does the ABC song (which was first published in 1835). It also confirms that the poem The Star by Jane Taylor was printed in 1806 in the book Rhymes for the Nursery.

    If anyone would like to give other references for or against what I said – that’d be most welcome!

    -Lisa

  4. Monique Says:

    “Le livre des chansons” by Henry Davenson (1957) says that the tune to this song could be found as early as 1740 (Mozart wasn’t born yet). It was also published by François Bouin in a book “La vielleuse habile” in 1761 and by Michel Corrette in “La belle vielleuse” in 1783 (hurdy-gurdy methods).

    In “Les plus belles chansons” Ed. Hachette, it reads that the tune was part of the 18th century harpsichordists’ traditional directory and that Mozart popularized it by writting variations on this theme.

  5. kurt Says:

    mozart also spoke 15 languages before he was eight! and he could work a jackhammer.

  6. taze Says:

    So, here we sit, all this, and still, NO ONE TO–THIS DAY–knows just who it was that wrote the damn thing!!!

    Amazing

    But, really, you guys . . . .c’mon . . . .
    WHO WROTE IT???

    or is just meant to remain forever a mystery?
    ty

  7. János Says:

    Dear Mama Lisa!

    While searching for the proof that the tune of the famous song, “What a Wonderful World” comes from the “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, I happened upon your blog. Here is the Hungarian lyrics of Twinkle, Twinkle:

    Hull a pelyhes fehér hó, jöjj el kedves Télapó!
    Minden gyerek várva vár, vidám ének hangja száll.
    Van zsákodban minden jó, piros alma, mogyoró,
    Jöjj el hozzánk, várunk rád, kedves öreg Télapó!

    Nagyszakállú Télapó, jó gyermek barátja.
    Cukrot, diót, mogyorót rejteget a zsákja.
    Amerre jár reggelig, kis cipőcske megtelik.
    Megtölti a Télapó, ha üresen látja.

    János

  8. Monique Says:

    I found the video on YouTube!

    1 Would you know if the lyrics are in the public domain?
    2 Would you have an English translation of it?

    Thanks for your help!

  9. János Says:

    1 The answer is absolutely yes, it is part of the most common cultural knowledge. The first verse, by all means. (You’ve found a version which is performed probably by tv stars or some musicians from the entertainment light industry who I don’t happen to know.)
    2 I’m going to ask someone to translate the text, because I am not brave enough to translate a poem. The first line says: the white feathery swnow falls, and (please) come dear Santa. Then they sing about how much every child is waiting for him, for he brings many good presents – preferably delicacies :) He fills up their shoes.
    I couldn’t find good quality videos, but these seem to be authentic:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6AoJBesRsY
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZHzfIDKBiw
    and here you can find an ‘artistic’ version sung as a nursery rhyme, the 2th track (pw:minerva):
    http://rs217.rapidshare.com/files/71086465/H_feh_r_Kar_csony__a_legszebb_kar_csonyi_dalok_.rar

  10. Rose Says:

    It is originally French but Mozart wrote the variations to it. It’s as simple as that. I know because I am French.

  11. christine zhang Says:

    this song is part of my classics project. i love this song so much!

  12. Lauren Says:

    Very interesting. Someone just told me it was by Mozart so thought I’d do a google and came across this :-)

    The Korean version is as follows:
    Where I’ve used an “r”, it shows the non-rhotic pronunciation-so basically that vowel sound without an r.

    반짝반짝 작은 별
    Pun-juck pun-junk jah-geun byoul
    아름답게 비추네
    a-rum-dup-keh bi-choo-ne
    서쪽 하늘에서도
    soh-chalk hah-neul eh-soh-doh
    동쪽 하늘에서도
    dorng chalk hah-neul eh-soh-doh
    반짝반짝 작은 별
    Pun-juck pun-junk jah-geun byoul
    아름답게 비추네
    a-rum-dup-keh bi-choo-ne

  13. Ocarina Says:

    Hi Lisa, I happened to find this entry when I was searching different versions of the song. You saved me lots of time! And I’ll provide you with more versions if it’s not too late:

    —————–

    Latin:

    Mica, mica, parva stella,
    Miror quaenam sis tam bella.
    Super terra in caelo,
    Alba gemma splendido.
    Mica, mica, parva stella,
    Miror quaenam sis tam bella.

    From Mary Mapes Dodge’s When life is young (1894). I found it on Wiki, not sure if it’s well known.

    —————–

    Japanese:

    きらきら星 (Kirakira Boshi)

    きらきらひかる (Kira-kira hikaru)
    おそらのほしよ (Yozora-no hoshi-yo)
    まばたきしては (Mabataki shitewa)
    みんなをみてる (Minnna-o miteru)
    きらきらひかる (Kira-kira hikaru)
    おそらのほしよ (Yozorano hoshi-yo)

    Direct and loose translation by myself:

    Twinkle Twinkle Stars

    Twinkle, twinkle, the light
    The stars on the night sky
    They are blinking
    And they’re watching everybody
    Twinkle, twinkle, the light
    The stars on the night sky

    It’s very well known as a children’s song in Japan.

    —————–

    Chinese version:

    小星星 (hsiao shing shing)

    一闪, 一闪, 亮晶晶 (ee-shan, ee-shan, liang-jing-jing)
    满天都是小星星 (man-tian dough-sh hsiao-shing-shing)
    挂在天空放光明 (kua-tsai tian-kong fang-kuang-ming)
    好像许多小眼睛 (hao-shiang shu-do hsiao-yen-jing)
    一闪, 一闪, 亮晶晶 (ee-shan, ee-shan, liang-jing-jing)
    满天都是小星星 (man-tian dough-sh hsiao-shing-shing)

    Direct translation:

    Little Stars

    Twinkle, twinkle, shiny
    There are little stars all over the sky
    Hanging in the sky and giving out the light
    Just like many small eyes
    Twinkle, twinkle, shiny
    There are little stars all over the sky

    And it’s well known in China too.

  14. Lisa Says:

    Thanks Lauren and Ocarina!

    Does anyone know the Italian version of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star?

  15. “My Mother” a Victorian Poem | Mama Lisa's World Blog Says:

    […] It was written by Ann Taylor (1783 –1866). She’s the sister of Jane Taylor, the author of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Ann and Jane published books of rhymes and poems […]

  16. jvith13 Says:

    an official magazine, The Health and Home says that wolfgang amadeus mozart composed it when he was five years old… he is a musical genius..

  17. Lisa Says:

    Mozart didn’t compose the tune to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star… but he did compose a classical piece using the melody.

  18. Sarah Says:

    I am searching for an alternative tune to Twinkle Twinkle. We used to sing it to a completely different tune to the usual one when I was in a choir as a child, and we sang all of the verses.

    Have been looking unsuccessfully on the internet – anyone got any ideas? Please?

  19. Hannah Says:

    Ditto! I have to find the sheet music for an alternative version that a teaching colleague is doing with her class next week! She knows the tune but doesn’t know where it comes from. Perhaps it’s the same one as yours… any help greatly appreciated – soon!

  20. ABC, Twinkle Star, Baa Blacksheep (Singable Books and All the Fix-ins), and A-You’re Adorable, too! « Sing Books with Emily, the Blog Says:

    […] Click this link to find an audio clip fo the song and more information about the tune: http://www.mamalisa.com/blog/the-origin-of-twinkle-twinkle-little-star/ […]

  21. Alice in Wonderland the Movie and Book | Mama Lisa's World Blog Says:

    […] Here’s the song, based on Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star… […]

  22. The Victorian Poem “My Mother” is Sung in Cameroon, Africa as a Childrens Song! | Mama Lisa's World Blog Says:

    […] I posted the Victorian poem “My Mother” written by Ann Taylor. Ann was the sister of Jane Taylor the author of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. It turns out that 2 verses of this poem are sung by children in Cameroon, Africa as a […]

  23. sophia Says:

    Well I was looking at sum of the replys but yet I am still alittle confused where in gods wonderful earth IT ORIGINATED fROM

  24. nichole Says:

    how do you pronounce the french version? :/

  25. Monique Says:

    Click on the “Listen to Ah vous dirai-je Maman” link just above the French lyrics at the top of the page.

  26. Eileen Says:

    In the 1930s I learned the song from my mother (b. 1898) to a tune similar to the hymn tune
    “Come children, join to sing
    Hallelujah to our King”
    This has 8 lines corresponding to 2 of the 4-line verses used with the “Ah, vous dirai-je ” tune so there is no need to repeat the first 2 lines.
    Words were as given from Jane Taylor except we sang “How could he see where to go/If you did not twinkle so” in v.3. Also in v.2 “When the sun has gone to rest/When he sinks down in the west” and did not know the last verse.

  27. “Twinkle, Little Star” The Song, The List « Sing Books with Emily, the Blog Says:

    […] Click this link to find an audio clip fo the song and more information about the tune: http://www.mamalisa.com/blog/the-origin-of-twinkle-twinkle-little-star/ […]

  28. Ging Says:

    In the Philippines, here is the tagalog version:

    Ning ning nang munting butuin
    tanglaw sa gabing madilim
    sa langit na kay taas
    nagsasabog ng liwanag
    ning ning nang munting bituin
    tanglaw sa gabing madilim…

    thanks for the many translations :-)

  29. Monique Says:

    Ging, could you please give a translation -just what it means without trying to make it sound good or look nice- of the tagalog version so we could post it on Mama Lisa’s World Philippines page? Thanks!

  30. st.habitat Says:

    I think the star is God.

  31. allison Says:

    when i was at school i majoured in art/music we were taught that mozart was the composer of the piece of music that is used for twinkle twinkle little star and many other childrens songs. However he DID NOT write the lyrics to twinkle twinkle or any of the other childrens songs… Mozart was a composer of music on numerous instruments which his father started teaching him at the age of 3 and he then started composing for himself at age 5… the reason there are many different theorys on this is just because people are getting thier infomation muddled for eg twinkle twinkle little star was written as a poem not a song which is why u dont see it dated at the smae time as the tune mozart wrote and people didnt start singing the tune with the song til many years after the poem was written

  32. Lisa Says:

    Many people believe that Mozart wrote the tune to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. I’m pretty sure it was first from the French song Ah ! vous dirai-je maman. In fact, this French Book called Chansons populaires du pays de France by Jean-Baptiste Weckerlin (1903) mentions an even earlier citing of the song in 1740.

  33. Monique Says:

    Please read the comments at the top of this page! If you can read German here (bottom of the page) is a document that states that the tune appeared in print in France in 1761 and Mozart composed the variations later. There is a long article in English about “Who wrote the melody to the alphabet song”. Besides, Mozart’s sheet music is sold with the title “12 Variations on ‘Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman’ KV 265 (300r)”. No further comment…

  34. Kelly Says:

    Lisa,

    Really interesting site. I’ve played the piano since I was two, and majored in piano performance in college. Mozart ‘s music is sprinkled liberally with variations of “the melody, but he did not write the original, and I am still working that one (20 years later!)

    You asked about an Italian version – I haven’t much time right now, but I did come across this link: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/o/olivia+newton+john/ita:twinkle+twinkle+little+star_20103372.html

    Hope that helps a little.

  35. Monique Says:

    The “Italian” version given at the link provided above is just the English lyrics put into Google translator -I tried! Can’t see anything looking like REAL lyrics to this song on the internet, only literal translations. Can’t any Italian reader lend a hand?

  36. Mika Heikinheimo Says:

    We just published fun kids Karaoke game on iPhone and iPad. It comes with 3 kids favorites, Old Mac Donald etc and is called Staraoke. When I saw your discussion it became clear that we have to provide it also Twinkle Twinkle Little Star soon. We provide music and lyrics in english but you can sing whatever language you wish.

  37. Wontok , Archive » Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (Star Blog Part Two) Says:

    […] folk melody is older than the lyrics, which date back to at least the 1700s when a French poem, Ah! Vous dirai-je Maman (Ah! Will I tell you, Mother) was […]

  38. Twinkle Says:

    Thank you very much for thys info it really helped me out!

  39. Nirmal Says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIG03HT21V8

    Mo passer la rivière Taniers
    Mo zoine ene vié grand mama
    Mo dire li ki li fer la
    Li dir moi li lapesse cabo

    Way way, mes zenfants,
    Fo travay pou gagne son pain
    Way way, mes zenfants,
    Fo travay pou gagne son pain

    Grand dimoune ki wa pé faire
    Sa ki vié rest dans lacaz
    Li dir moi
    Moi bien mizere, mais mo ena tout mo couraz

    Way way, mes zenfants,
    Fo travay pour gagne son pain
    Way way, mes zenfants,
    Fo travay pour gagne son pain

  40. Franc Bell Says:

    This is one version in Scots Gaelic (Gàidhlig)

    Piriob nis, priob nis, reul bhig dhriùid
    Saoil ca’ bheil thu-fhéin co dhiùbh
    Ard os cionn an t-saoghail gu léu
    Mar na seudan, anns an speur
    Priob nis, priob nis, reul bhig dhriùid
    Saoil ca’ bheil thu-fhéin co dhiùbh.

    and in Irish Gaelic (Gaeilge – NB some of the fadas/accents are missing)

    I can confirm that the words were written by Jane Taylor (1783 – 1824) and they first appeared as ‘The Star’ in her book ‘Rhymes for the Nursery’ (1806). A number of tunes have been used for it including the tune to Baa Baa Black
    Sheep – ‘an ubiquitous European tune family which includes the 18th century French song ‘Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman’ and in the minor, the Czech folk-tune used by Smetana in the Moldau’ (I’m quoting the musicologist Jeremy Barlow who arranged the music for the CD 52 Old English Nursery Rhymes from Victorian Collections (Saydisc)

    Drithligh, drithligh a réailtin mhin
    Nach mor an t-iontas thu
    Os cionn an domhain in airde
    I do sheoidin thuas sa spéir
    Drithligh, drithligh a réailtin mhin
    Nach mor an t-iontas thu (there are other versions as well)

  41. Miguel Says:

    Hello!

    Does anyone know where I can find the lyrics for the supposedly parody version of this beautiful song in French that includes something like “la première vache du vin”. I can’t seem to find the lyrics for this, I’ve googled it and googled it… Will someone help me?

    Grateful! ((( <3 )))

  42. Lisa Says:

    Arianne wrote:

    Hi Lisa . My kindergarten daughter just asked me to sing twinkle twinkle in Tagalog as it was just taught in school. We are more used to the English version but i do remember some lines. And reading your blog where someone back in 2010 shared the Tagalog version and you were asking for the translation. What she shared then.. was the one similar to what i know, i thought after 3 years it must be answered already but seems like it wasn’t.
    So here’s the version i know and its translation in English…hope this help :)

    Ningning nang munting bituin
    Tanglaw sa gabing madilim
    Sa langit na kay taas
    Nagsasabog ng liwanag
    Ningning nang munting bituin
    Tanglaw ka sa gabing madilim

    Translation:
    Sparkle of a little star
    Light in a dark night
    In the sky that is so high
    Bring forth a burst of light
    Sparkle of a little star
    Light in a dark night

    Thank you Arianne!

  43. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star | FolkSongIndex.com Says:

    […] The wonderful song has traveled around the world in many languages. You can find it in Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Turkish and many other languages. (from Mama Lisa) […]

  44. Ian Says:

    What is the Spanish version of the song

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