This Musical World. Of stars and wonder


Written by: Mandy Stefanakis

Sometimes things that are complex can appear simple, but equally, there are some simple solutions to what seem intractable problems.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is a musically innocuous song with its simple descending melodic motifs. But it asks a big question, ‘Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are?’ We know quite a lot about our own star, but the multitude of others in the universe still harbour many mysteries.

The anonymously written melody for Twinkle Twinkle, originally, Ah! Vous dirai-je maman, dates from 1740, with lyrics about a child finding lollies more enticing than the grownup reasoning the child’s father wishes his offspring to pursue. The tune may have been sung to Mozart when he was young. That he decided to write twelve variations on it when he was about twenty-five, is pure Mozart. ‘Though I still like sweets, I’ll show you that I can also reason quite well!’ Yes, dear Wolfie, you can have your sweets and eat them too.

Mozart epitomises the simplicity/complexity in both iterations of the song. He takes this unpretentious children’s folk tune and reveals in it the incredible intricacies that are inherent in the notion of reason, or, in star terms, universals. In demonstrating his profound understanding of this paradox, through elaborate musical variations, his wit, and dare I suggest, musical arrogance, shine through.

However, to give some idea of the varying levels of musical understanding of Mozart’s contemporaries, one needs only to be reminded that the Austrian aristocrat, Count Franz von Walsegg commissioned Mozart to compose his Requiem in D minor to commemorate the anniversary of von Walsegg’s wife’s death. But! He also pretended that he, not Mozart, was the work’s author. As if anyone could. As if the Requiem Aeternum could be anyone else’s. As if von Walsegg could even begin to write with this level of musical knowledge and complexity. As if the composer’s voice, and his state of mind at the time are not reflected in every note of the music. Von Walsegg obviously did not understand this concept of the composer’s voice, since it was his habit to pay composers to write exclusively and anonymously for him, in order that he be able to appropriate their compositions. He must have had many musical identities, and not much sense. But money, as they say, speaks emphatically and in many tongues.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, darling ditty of music educators everywhere, as indicator of major pitch levels, is also a favourite of Tharnicaa Murugappan, the second child of Tamil asylum seekers, Priya and Nades. The song has become an anthem for those advocating for the release of the family back into the Biloela community in Queensland, from whence they were wrenched more than three years ago. Again, the naïvety of the melody, the simplicity of the safe and secure lives the family seek, is overtrodden by a heavy-handed government determined to make an example of anyone who would dare to seek a safe haven in an unsafe world, Universal Declaration of Human Rights be damned! Government members are either utterly ignorant of the treacherous life-stories of those seeking refuge, or worse, they just don’t care. The abject cruelty and complex manipulation of the circumstances of this one family leave large swathes of the Australian populace bewildered. It’s a very different kind of arrogance when, like this government, you’re not equipped with the skills to deserve its display. ‘How I wonder what you are?’

We do know that our star provides us with sustenance. Without it, we would not be able to question its existence – for lack of our own. Since we do exist and we can, amazingly, ask such profound and yet ultimately simple questions, perhaps we could work to nurture all those who are able to do the same, rather than continuing to allow those with the money or the power, to steal our voices, or assume them as their own. Because for many Australians, for many around the world, they are not.

‘You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.’ Our star and our earth are shouting in innumerable ways just now, for us to arrest decisions made by a few individuals at the expense of, not only the Murugappan family’s quest for safety and security, but the entire planet’s. These may seem complex problems, but actually, they have pretty simple solutions. All that’s missing is a united will.


Mozart – 12 Variations on Ah! Vous Dirai-je, Maman performed by Christoph Eschenbach

Mozart – Requiem in D Minor – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra – Herbert von Karajan

John Lennon – Imagine

Biloela Family – Home to Bilo

United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights


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