Video Pick of the Week: Michael Bautista Plays Mozart’s “12 Variations on ‘Ah vous dirai-je, maman'”

In English-speaking countries, it’s a simple children’s song called “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” that every kid learns to sing; and it’s elemental motif of seven-note lines are among the most popular for beginning musicians all over the world. I grew up being told it was written by Mozart, but that’s not quite right, I learned much later in life. In fact, the song that eventually acquired the English lyrics we all know was a French folk melody written around 1740 and formally published in 1761. The French words for the song—called “Ah vous dirai-je, maman”— were first published with the music in 1774.  Mozart was born in 1756, started playing music at age six, so it was still a relatively new song when he was alive. The reason why “Wolfi” (as Mozart’s wife dubiously calls him in the 1980s film Amadeus) became associated with the song is because in 1781 or ’82, when he was 25, he wrote a wonderfully playful piano piece called Twelve Variations on ‘Ah vous dirai-je, maman’, which is exactly what the title promises—fanciful extrapolations on the nursery-rhyme melody.

The version we’re highlighting here is by Northern California guitarist Michael Bautista, who made his own solo guitar transcription from the piano work, and recorded it on his excellent self-titled album back in 2009. (That transcription is also available from his website.) Bautista, who holds degrees from both Stanford University and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, has enjoyed a multifaceted career as a classical guitarist, rock guitarist, songwriter, jingle composer, and teacher of both music and math(!).  —Blair Jackson