Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Mica, mica, parva stella... (How insanity begins)
I certainly don’t want to bore you, nor do I want, heaven forbid, to become so enamored of my own posts that I wind up talking to myself, but in order to understand this post you must first read every last word of this February 5th post, including the comments. Sorry, but it can’t be helped. After that, we can continue.
There now, wasn’t that a fascinating read? I hope you learned a lot of new facts -- well, perhaps not new exactly, but new to you -- such as (a) Charlemagne (742-814) is considered to have been the father of Europe, and (b) the full name of the current Prince of Wales is not, as Princess Diana would have had us believe, Charles Arthur Philip George.
Fast-forward (now there’s an anachronistic term if I ever heard one) three months. After a three-month interlude of absolute quiet on that particular post, jinksy (a blogger from England who has 80, count ’em, 80 followers) posted a comment in which she described Carolina in Nederland thusly: “She’s a star. Which just goes to show she is from another planet, for sure...” (Ruth Hull Chatlien, you will remember, had suggested that Carolina’s father might be from Neptune).
My mind working the way it does, I immediately thought of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
You know, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and all that. Just about everybody knows that Mozart wrote “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
Except he didn’t. You can search Wikipedia’s article on Mozart until the cows come home (Jeannelle, are you listening?) and you will find nary a mention of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
According to this Wikipedia article, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” is one of the most popular English nursery rhymes. It combines the tune of the melody “Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman”, known in France since the 1760s, with an early nineteenth-century English poem, “The Star” by Jane Taylor. The poem, which is in couplet form, was first published in 1806 in Rhymes for the Nursery [Editor’s note. Not to be confused with Rhymeswithplague for the Nursery. -- RWP], a collection of poems by Taylor and her sister Ann. It is often sung to the tune of the French melody “Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman” (earliest known publication 1761) [Editor’s note. Anything a Wikipedia article says twice is true. --RWP]. The English lyrics have five stanzas, although only the first is widely known.
So what did Mozart do? The article states that Mozart wrote twelve variations for piano on the melody. His composition is called, predictably enough, Variations on “Ah vous dirai-je, Maman”, now catalogued as K. 265/300e in the Köchel-Verzeichnis. It sounds an awful lot like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and now you know why.
Isn’t that special?
I know a woman whose name is Jane Taylor, but I’m pretty sure she wasn’t alive in 1806. One of my neighbors is named Richard Burton but his wife is named Sarah, not Elizabeth Taylor. I wonder if Jane and Elizabeth are related. The person who grooms Jethro is named Karen Carpenter. Remember her? I even know someone named Jane Grey. Lady Jane Grey (not the same person) was queen of England for nine whole days in 1553 before being beheaded by Queen Mary in 1554, but not, apparently, before writing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” using the nom de plume Jane Taylor with her sister Ann, who lived until 1806, if I read Wikipedia correctly. After a while, all those Wikipedia articles start to run together. People named a drink after Queen Mary; it’s made with vodka and tomato juice. I guess they had their reasons. If I didn’t know better, I’d say Andy Rooney wrote this paragraph. For the record, I don’t know anyone named Andy Rooney except that old guy on 60 Minutes.
(The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by French Romantic painter Paul Delaoche, 1833.)
I enjoy reading about the history of the British monarchy. You can read all about Lady Jane Grey here, including the fact that Jane refused to name her husband Dudley as king, but offered to make him Duke of Clarence instead. I don’t think it was this Dudley, however, and I thought Clarence was that angel who got his wings at the end of It’s A Wonderful Life.
But, I can almost hear you asking, why does it say “Mica, mica, parva stella” up there in the title of this post? Well, Mica, mica, parva stella is the first line of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in Latin, and you can find that version in the Wikipedia article along with the French words of “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” and Lewis Carroll’s well-known parody from Through The Looking Glass that he put into the mouth of the Mad Hatter, “Twinkle, twinkle, little bat, How I wonder what you’re at, Up above the world so high, Like a tea-tray in the sky.”
Any similarity between the Mad Hatter and any blogger you know, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
And by the way, jinksy could benefit from a remedial course in astronomy. For your and her information, a star is not a planet and a planet is not a star. In our atmosphere, stars seem to twinkle. Planets do not. Outside of our atmosphere, neither stars nor planets twinkle. Not that I’ve ever been there.
(Image by Shutterstock)
Incidentally, and also for your information, reading a post that includes “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in Latin, an 1833 painting of the 1554 execution of Lady Jane Grey, a reference to the planets in our solar system, and a link to Dudley Do-Right is how insanity begins.