Music and Texts of Gary Bachlund


Variations on "Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman" - (2003)   
for B-flat clarinet and piano


In English, the original title is rendered, "Ah! I shall tell you, Mama." English speaking people will know the tune better as "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," a popular English nursery rhymes, properly titled "The Star", by Jane Taylor. That poem was first published in 1806 in Rhymes for the Nursery. It became connected to the tune of the 1761 French melody, first published without a text in Les Amusements d'une Heure et Demy by Bouin (Paris). Mozart's Variations on "Ah vous dirais-je, Maman", K. 265 were composed for piano in Vienna in 1781-82, a theme and twelve variations. Other composers have been attracted to this sweet melody, among them Camille Saint-Saëns for the 12th movement of his Carnival of the Animals, and Ernő Dohnányi, Variations on a Nursery Tune.

In Marilyn Barnett's and my operatic setting of Lewis Carroll's stories, Alice, the parody of the words is set to another harmonic variation on this beloved tune.


The opening to these variations begins with polytonal flavoring in the accompaniment to introduce the first statement, itself already ornamented, because the theme is so well known. I will leave it to another's analysis to determine whether the opening measures constitutes a variation or original statement for the purposes of this set of variations.



As the work progresses, the accompaniment's gestures change along with additional kinds of ornamentations for the solo clarinet. In this variation below, simple quartal chord forms form a parallel motion commentary beneath the clarinet's turns.



A more aggressive statement of the theme is accompanied by an agitato in the piano, the ornamental turns becoming more frequent and compressed.



Several of the variations are in triple meter, the first of which mimics a waltz, though in 3/8 meter. Other triple meter variations follow.



The last variations become more ornate and a final variation's outburst of scales and arpeggios with the solo clarinet and top voice of the accompaniment rush to their end without a ritardando.



The duration of the work is circa 6' 30" and the score is 14 pages in length.


The score is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphics below for this score and solo part score.


Variations on "Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman"


Variations on "Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman" - clarinet part