Mother Moat’s Art

To my delight yesterday, WQXR (please let us do a late-night infomercial for you someday!) played a Mozart piece tortuously titled, “12 Variations in C Major on “Ah vous dirai-je, Maman”, K. 265.” Now, the reader (s) of our blog will know what the K stands for, and it’s not potassium. Mozart’s title was “Zwölf Variationen in C über das französische Lied „Ah, vous dirai-je Maman“ KV 265.” I note, uselessly, that the English translation drops the modifying phrase “the French song,” probably because the title of the song is in French. In other words, duh, Mozart.

This is a lovely little piece (I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything Wolfie wrote that wasn’t lovely, but still) that I think is great for kids and is also exemplary employment of theme and variation. Don’t forget that Sibling Variation 1 (or does that make her the theme?) wrote a guide to classical music for kids!

What, exactly, is this so-called French children’s song, “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman”? Melodically, most listeners will hear it as “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” though the tune is also used for asking black sheep how much wool they have and reciting the alphabet. Now, “Twinkle, twinkle” is a staple of childhood bedrooms across the land, and with good reason (staring up at the stars and wondering about life has sparked a lot of creativity in humans over the millennia and should be encouraged). But the lyrics of the French song are, in my mind, quite hilarious. Noting the formal “vous,” the song basically boils down to: candy > grown-up stuff. And that’s hard to argue with, most days. Et mais oui, one would never tutoyer when speaking grandly of candy’s value!

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.

Oh! Shall 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 reasoning.

So which came first, French candy theory or English astronomy? It would appear that Gaul is the origin in this case. According to a couple of Internet sources (not pretending to scholarship here), the tune was first published in Paris in 1761 without words.

Mozart’s variations on this theme were first published in Vienna in 1785. Here is Walter Gieseking playing the piece:

You have to love the appearance of the minor key after 3:00 (de rigueur in theme & variation)! And I swear there are small Bach quotes after 4:00 (one of the few composers the little genius actually acknowledged as also having talent). But whether your bag is Mozart, theme/variation, or candy, this is a fine piece for your listening pleasure.

Score-ally Yours, Part II: Dances With Wolves

Having spent a little bit of time on horseback in the Absaroka Mountains/Shoshone National Park part of Wyoming, I tell you with unbridled (pun intended) passion that there is NOTHING like being under an endless sky, in velvet quiet, surrounded by nature. Nothing.  If everyone could experience that, Big Pharma would be out of business.  It was a life-changing experience for me, and one that my husband and I still talk about with regularity some five years later.

That said, when I’m in such places I often wish that the appropriate film score was pouring forth from an invisible orchestra, just to engrave the memory upon my brain a little more deeply.  Today’s selection is in honor of America’s wilderness and our Reveling cousin David, because this is his favorite movie of all time.  I should also note that my Sibling and I believe heartily in the conservation of wolves and Native American culture and history.

English composer John Barry wrote the compelling score for Dances With Wolves and won a well-deserved Academy Award for his work.  Like my beloved Ralph Vaughan Williams, Barry was noted for his liberal use of lush strings.  I like that he would watch films before composing a score, therefore really allowing the music to be molded to and woven into the storyline.

“The John Dunbar Theme” perfectly captures the exhilarating feeling of being out on the American plains.  It’s romantic and contemplative, stirring up the spicy scent of sagebrush and the feeling of the wind at your back. I hope you will enjoy listening to it as much as I do.