Good Reading : April 2009
BOOKBITE 1 how I wonder… In an extract from Love me tender: The stories behind the world’s favourite songs, learn about the reclusive sisters who wrote the nursery rhyme we know so well. by Max Cryer Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star Ann and Jane Taylor, 1838 A nn and Jane Taylor lived in Suffolk in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Like a somewhat reduced version of the Brontë sisters, both young women were homebodies, dedicated to writing – mostly poems and hymns for children. Besides their natural inclination towards authorship, they had to write down everything concerned with day- to-day living because of their mother’s deafness. The sisters’ published books, among them Original Poems for Infant Minds, Rhymes for the Nursery and Hymns for Infant Minds, were popular and successful in the early 1800s. But, unlike the Brontës, only one piece of their work ever achieved worldwide fame. The two women normally wrote jointly so neither was identified as the author of a simple five-verse poem called The Star, which appeared in the 1806 publication Rhymes for the Nursery. Authorship has usually been ascribed to ‘the Taylor sisters’, though Ann Taylor’s son Josiah Gilbert was later confident that his aunt, Jane, was the main author. Either way, Rhymes for the Nursery was sufficiently successful to go into 27 editions. Over 30 years after it was first published, The Star was set to music. By a strange coincidence (we cannot know if it was deliberate) the Taylors’ verse rhythm fitted perfectly with an old French folk tune that had been published in 1761 as an instrumental piece, and was later published with the words ‘Ah vous dirai-je Maman’ in 26 goodreading i APRIL 2009 1774. Over 60 years after that, in 1838, a book called The Singing Master: First Class Tune Book was published, with the words of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ now set to be sung to the old French tune. A popular misconception existed that the tune was composed by Mozart, but this turned out not to be true. Mozart did later write a set of variations on the same old French tune. THE STAR (original text, 1806) 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 traveller 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. Since then, millions throughout the world have come to know the simple tune, if not always with the Taylors’ words. Before The Star made its change from poem to song, a centuries-old poem about a black sheep came into print in 1744 and moved closer to immortality by being hooked onto the same French tune as Twinkle, Twinkle, to be followed in 1834 by a clever little Alphabet Song, showing that all 26 letters, like the sheep and the twinkling star, could be fitted to Ah vous dirai-je Maman. Perhaps the structure of the old French tune invites various words: there have certainly been numerous parodies of Twinkle, Twinkle. A version in Latin had a brief vogue (‘Mica mica parva stella’) and Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter sang his version, about a twinkling little bat who resembles a teatray in the sky. The Muppets also took a swipe, but one of the more charming variations is that familiar to children in the northern parts of Canada, who sing: Twinkle, twinkle, Northern Lights, Shimmer in the arctic nights, Up above the clouds so high Green blue ribbons in the sky. And perhaps the variation to silence them all, John Raymond Carson’s satirical version in Orotund-speak: Scintillate, scintillate, globule vivific, Fain would I fathom thy nature specific, Loftily poised in the ether capacious Strongly resembling a gem carbonaceous (Copyright 2002 George Carson & Ann Hough Family Organization) Love me Tender: The stories behind the world’s favourite songs by Max Cryer is published by Exisle, rrp $39.99.