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Au clair de la lune

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"Au clair de la lune" from a children's book, c. 1910–1919.

"Au clair de la lune" (French pronunciation: [o klɛʁ la lyn(ə)],[1] lit.'By the Light of the Moon') is a French folk song of the 18th century. Its composer and lyricist are unknown. Its simple melody (Play) is commonly taught to beginners learning an instrument.


Chords, melody and words

The song appears as early as 1820 in Le Voiture Verseés, with only the first verse. Four verses were later re-published in the 1858 compilation Chants et Chansons populaires de la France.[2]

In the 1870 compilation Chansons et Rondes Enfantines, only the first two verses of the original four were retained.[3]

"Au clair de la lune,
Mon ami Pierrot,
Prête-moi ta plume
Pour écrire un mot.
Ma chandelle est morte,
Je n'ai plus de feu.
Ouvre-moi ta porte
Pour l'amour de Dieu."

Au clair de la lune,
Pierrot répondit :
"Je n'ai pas de plume,
Je suis dans mon lit.
Va chez la voisine,
Je crois qu'elle y est,
Car dans sa cuisine
On bat le briquet."

Au clair de la lune,
L'aimable Lubin;
Frappe chez la brune,
Elle répond soudain :
–Qui frappe de la sorte?
Il dit à son tour :
–Ouvrez votre porte,
Pour le Dieu d'Amour.

Au clair de la lune,
On n'y voit qu'un peu.
On chercha la plume,
On chercha du feu.
En cherchant d'la sorte,
Je n'sais c'qu'on trouva;
Mais je sais qu'la porte
Sur eux se ferma."

"By the light of the moon,
My friend Pierrot,
Lend me your quill
To write a word.
My candle is dead,
I have no light left.
Open your door for me
For the love of God."

By the light of the moon,
Pierrot replied:
"I don't have any quill,
I am in my bed
Go to the neighbor's,
I think she's there
Because in her kitchen
Someone is lighting the fire."

By the light of the moon
Likeable Lubin
Knocks on the brunette's door.
She suddenly responds:
– Who's knocking like that?
He then replies:
– Open your door
for the God of Love!

By the light of the moon
One could barely see.
The pen was looked for,
The light was looked for.
With all that looking
I don't know what was found,
But I do know that the door
Shut itself on them.

Some sources report that "plume" (pen) was originally "lume" (an old word for "light" or "lamp"), which makes more sense of the song’s contextual framework.[4][5] Much of the lyrics have sexual innuendos.[6]

In music

19th-century French composer Camille Saint-Saëns quoted the first few notes of the tune in the section "The Fossils", part of his suite The Carnival of the Animals.

French composer Ferdinand Hérold wrote a set of variations for piano solo in E-flat major.[7]

Claude Debussy, composer of the similarly named "Clair de lune" from his Suite bergamasque, uses "Au clair de la lune" as the basis of his song "Pierrot" (Pantomime, L. 31) from Quatre Chansons de Jeunesse.

Erik Satie quoted this song in the section "Le flirt" (No. 19) of his 1914 piano collection Sports et divertissements.[8]

In 1926, Samuel Barber rewrote "H-35: Au Claire de la Lune: A Modern Setting of an old folk tune" while studying at the Curtis Institute of Music.[9]

In 1928, Marc Blitzstein orchestrated "Variations sur 'Au Claire de la Lune'."[10]

In 1955, Swiss composer Frank Martin wrote a setting of Au clair de la lune for one of his children to practice octaves (Primo part). It consists of three variations provided by the Secondo part.

In 1964, French pop singer France Gall recorded a version of this song, with altered lyrics to make it a love song.[11]

In 2008, a phonautograph paper recording made by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville of "Au clair de la lune" on 9 April 1860, was digitally converted to sound by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. This one-line excerpt of the song is the earliest recognizable record of the human voice and the earliest recognizable record of music.[13][14] According to those researchers, the phonautograph recording contains the beginning of the song, "Au clair de la lune, mon ami Pierrot, prête moi".[14][15][16]

In 2008, composer Fred Momotenko composed an eponymous tribute score for 4-part vocal ensemble and surround audio.[17]

In visual art

In the 1804 painting and sculpting exposition, Pierre-Auguste Vafflard presented a painting depicting Edward Young burying his daughter by night. An anonymous critic commented[citation needed] on the monochromatic nature of that painting with the lyrics:

Young et sa fille by Pierre-Auguste Vafflard (1804)

Au clair de la lune
Les objets sont bleus
Plaignons l'infortune
De ce malheureux
Las ! sa fille est morte
Ce n'est pas un jeu
Ouvrez-lui la porte
Pour l'amour de Dieu.

By the light of the moon
All things are blue
Cry for the misfortune
Of this poor soul
Sadly! His daughter is dead
It is no game
Open the door to her
For the love of God.

In literature

The "Story of my Friend Peterkin and the Moon" in The Ladies Pocket Magazine (1835) mentions the song several times and ends:

Indeed, what must have been the chagrin and despair of this same Jaurat, when he heard sung every night by all the little boys of Paris, that song of "Au clair de la lune", every verse of which was a remembrance of happiness to Cresson, and a reproach of cruelty to friend Peterkin, who would not open his door to his neighbor, when he requested this slight service.[18]

In his 1952 memoir Witness, Whittaker Chambers reminisced:

In my earliest recollections of her, my mother is sitting in the lamplight, in a Windsor rocking chair, in front of the parlor stove. She is holding my brother on her lap. It is bed time and, in a thin sweet voice, she is singing him into drowsiness. I am on the floor, as usual among the chair legs, and I crawl behind my mother's chair because I do not like the song she is singing and do not want her to see what it does to me. She sings: "Au clair de la lune; Mon ami, Pierrot; Prête-moi ta plume; Pour écrire un mot."

Then the vowels darken ominously. My mother's voice deepens dramatically, as if she were singing in a theater. This was the part of the song I disliked most, not only because I knew that it was sad, but because my mother was deliberately (and rather unfairly, I thought) making it sadder: "Ma chandelle est morte; Je n'ai plus de feu; Ouvre-moi la porte; Pour l'amour de Dieu."

I knew, from an earlier explanation, that the song was about somebody (a little girl, I thought) who was cold because her candle and fire had gone out. She went to somebody else (a little boy, I thought) and asked him to help her for God's sake. He said no. It seemed a perfectly pointless cruelty to me.[19]

In their 1957 play Bad Seed: A Play in Two Acts, Maxwell Anderson and William March write: "A few days later, in the same apartment. The living-room is empty: Rhoda can be seen practicing 'Au Clair de la Lune' on the piano in the den."[20] In F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel Tender is the Night, Dick and Nicole Diver's children sing the first verse at the request of the film producer Earl Brady.

The song is featured in the story "For the God of Love, For the Love of God" in Lauren Groff's 2018 collection Florida, and the story takes its title from the lyrics.


  1. ^ Word-final E caduc is silent in modern spoken French but obligatory in older poetry and often also in singing, in which case a separate note is written for it. Therefore "lune" is pronounced differently in the name of this song than in the song itself.
  2. ^ Chants et Chansons populaires de la France (1858). Ed. Henri Plon. pp. 16 & 17 of 242
  3. ^ Jean-Baptiste Weckerlin, Chansons et Rondes Enfantines (1870). pp. 32-33. text and score at Wikisource
  4. ^ Proetz, Victor (1971). The Astonishment of Words: An Experiment in the Comparison of Languages. University of Texas Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-292-75829-2. Here is an example of another thing that happens to French. "Au Clair de la Lune" was originally Au clair de Ia lune, / Mon ami Pierrot, / Prête-moi ta lume ... But when the word lume faded out of the language and "was no longer understood", "lend me your light" became "lend me your pen", and "mon ami Pierrot" was no longer the moon itself.
  5. ^ Benét, William Rose (1955). The Reader's Encyclopedia. Thomas Y. Crowell Company. p. 58. 'Au clair de la lune.' Famous French song. The line prête-moi ta plume "lend me your pen", is a modern substitute for ... ta lume "... light", which came into use when the old word lume was no longer understood.
  6. ^ "battre le briquet". Retrieved 2020-09-23.
  7. ^ Au clair de la lune, Op. 19 (Hérold): Scores at the International Music Score Library Project
  8. ^ Davis, Mary E. (2008). Classic Chic: Music, Fashion, and Modernism. University of California Press. p. 87. ISBN 9780520941687.
  9. ^ Heyman, Barbara B. (2012). Samuel Barber: A Thematic Catalogue of the Complete Works. Oxford University Press. p. 56. ISBN 9780199744640.
  10. ^ Pollack, Howard (2012). Marc Blitzstein: His Life, His Work, His World. Oxford University Press. p. 42. ISBN 9780199791590.
  11. ^ translate, lyrics. "Au clair de la lune (English translation)". Retrieved 14 December 2019.
  12. ^ "FirstSounds.ORG". FirstSounds.ORG. 2008-03-27. Retrieved 2012-01-14.
  13. ^ Jody Rosen (March 27, 2008). "Researchers Play Tune Recorded Before Edison". The New York Times.
  14. ^ a b "First Sounds archive of recovered sounds, MP3 archive". March 2008.
  15. ^ "Un papier ancien trouve sa 'voix'" (in French). 28 March 2008. Retrieved 19 November 2008.
  16. ^ Jean-Baptiste Roch (13 May 2008). "Le son le plus vieux du monde". Télérama (in French). Archived from the original on 2009-07-01. Retrieved 19 November 2008.
  17. ^ "Alfred Momotenko".
  18. ^ M. L. B. (1835). "Story of My Friend Peterkin and the Moon". The Ladies Pocket Magazine. Vol. part 2. London. p. 205.
  19. ^ Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. New York: Random House. pp. 98–99. LCCN 52005149.
  20. ^ Anderson, Maxwell; William March (1957). Bad Seed: A Play in Two Acts. New York: Dramatists Play Service. pp. 28 (act 1, scene 4). Au Clair de la Lune.
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Au clair de la lune
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