Named: The great composer who wrote Frère Jacques

Named: The great composer who wrote Frère Jacques


norman lebrecht

October 08, 2014

A new French biography of an anniversary composer delivers a musicological bombshell.  Sylvie Bouissou, author of a 1,166-page Fayard door-stopper on the life and works of Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764), argues that his was the hidden hand behind the ever-popular nursery-rhyme song.

Her evidence: 
1 The tune appears in a manuscript of 86 canons, assembled by a collector Jacques Joseph Marie Decroix and kept in the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Decroix, who is the source of many Rameau scores, attributes Frère Jacques to Rameau.

2 A violinist called Francoeur who played in the Paris Opéra orchestra in Rameau’s time while his uncle was director, mentions this canon on ‘Frère Jacques’ in another manuscript found by Ms. Bouissou at the BibNat and ascribes it to Rameau.

The tune was first published in 1811 by the “Société du Caveau”, (a group of composers founded in 1720 with Rameau as a prominent member. Where else could they have got the tune?

Too late to claim royalties from the Mahler estate?

Read more here.



  • Milka says:

    Now this is news !!! not some air head winning the pointless Tchaikovsky or Queen E violin competition

  • David Bellugi says:

    I’m a performer, not a musicologist, but the simplistic style of this canon would seem to me to indicate a significantly earlier and decidedly more popular origin than composer-theoreticist Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764).