This work was written for the Creekview High School A Cappella Choir (Carrollton, TX)–Tara Sikon, director and Brian Murray, associate director–for their performance at the 2013 Texas Music Educators Association Conference.
All will undoubtedly recognize the opening words of Jane Taylor’s “The Star”. First published in a collection of Rhymes for the Nursery in 1806, the stanza that begins “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” is accompanied traditionally by a French folk melody, Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman, first published in 1761 and later popularized by Mozart in a set of twelve variations (K. 300e, 1782) and Haydn in his “Surprise” Symphony, No. 94 in G Major (1792). The poem continues, though, and reading further through Taylor’s additional stanzas reveals a poem not only of a child’s curiosity, but also of comfort, of safety and guidance through the dark night.
In this setting, I quote briefly the traditional folk tune with an initial melodic motive of an ascending fifth. Fifth relationships also figure prominently throughout the work—from the opening, “rocking” gesture in the piano, through a harmonic motion outlining a descending fifth, to the occasional movement of open parallel sonorities—an allusion to a harmony of the spheres, a sense of marvel in the beauty of starlight. The poem, in the end, is a lullaby, and the music seeks to portray a child desperately trying to stay awake to watch the stars, only to find himself pulled into a dreaming sleep.
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 looks upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle all the night.
In the dark blue sky you keep,
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 trav’ler in the dark,
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle little star!
— Jane Taylor (1783-1824)