“Au Clair de la Lune”

“Au Clair de la Lune” is a French folk song from the 18th century.  It is one of France’s best known children’s songs and one of the first I teach the children who take my classes.  Most people do not know however that it has the interesting distinction of having had its first couplet be the first ever recording of a human voice.  Most people think that Thomas Edison’s “Mary Had A Little Lamb” had this notoriety, but in fact that is not the case.  In 1857 Parisian inventor Edouard-Léon Scott de Martinville patented his “phonautograph”, a device that converted the sound of human speech into marks inscribed on a cylinder coated with lampblack. On April 9th 1860, fully 17 years before Thomas Edison’s “Mary Had A Little Lamb”, Scott de Martinville used his phonautograph to record a girl singing the first two verses of “Au Clair de la Lune”.

Below I have included clips of “Au Clair de la Lune”, de Martinville’s recording of its first couplet, the lyrics to “Au Clair de la Lune” and their English translation.

Au Clair de la Lune

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
Qui répond soudain
Qui frapp’ de la sorte
Il dit à son tour
Ouvrez votre porte
Au dieu de l’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.

Au Clair de la Lune (English)

Under the moonlight,
My friend Pierrot
Lend me your pen*,
So I can write a note
My candle has died,
I have no more light
Open your door for me,
For the love of God.

Under the moonlight,
Pierrot replied,
I don’t have no pen,
I’m in my bed.
Go next door,
I believe they’re in,
Because there in the kitchen,
Someone lit a matchstick.

Under the moonlight
Nice Lubin
Knocks at the brunette’s door
She calls out:
Who’s knocking in this way
He replies:
Open your door
For the love of God.

Under the moonlight
Little can be seen
They looked for the pen
They looked for the light
With regard to their searching
I don’t know what was found
But I do know that the door
Closed behind them.

Au clair de la lune - French Children's Songs - France - Mama Lisa's World: Children's Songs and Rhymes from Around the World, Comment Image

French lyrics, English translation and illustrations are from “Mama Lisa’s World:  France” (http://www.mamalisa.com)

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