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Ostinato Journal, Carl Orff Canada, Music for Children, Winter 2019

J'ai vu le loup.gif

J’ai vu le loup, le renard, le lièvre, a page of History
by Chantal Dubois


This beautiful French song comes to us from the Middle Ages. We must remember that at the time, only monks could decipher and compose music. Composers of secular music of the time were therefore inclined to draw inspiration from religious melodies heard in church, as was customary. “J’ai vu le loup, le renard, le lièvre”, from an anonymous composer,  is a parody of the famous Gregorian chant Dies Irae, composed around the year 400.


Later, this popular song would have begun to travel thanks to the trouvères and troubadours.  Musicologists have traced their career to the 13th century in Provence, the 14th and 15th centuries in Burgundy.  They would have made the great crossing to New France in the 17th century. It is no coincidence that in many versions of the finale, we often find the motif of the Gregorian Miserere. Interestingly, according to some writings, this gem of French literature would have had its very first manifestation during the Celtic era.


A festive and popular dance song, this work is repetitively constructed with alternating solist / group and has an uplifting tempo. This song was performed at village festivals.


The lyrics are in old French. It's a song that features animals: the wolf, the fox and the hare.


But what could be the symbolic meaning of the main characters?


  • The WOLF, in the Middle Ages, means the devil. The proverb says "when we speak of the wolf, he jumps out of the woods". The wolf, devouring bodies, appropriates souls. Throughout the centuries, Judeo-Christian morality will develop a panoply of beliefs and legends about the wolf:  we only have to think about Perrault and La Fontaine, among others.


  • The FOX in the Middle Ages is a symbol of cunning, treachery and hypocrisy. For Aristotle, it was a creepy and mischievous animal. "He never follows a straight path. It is said that when he is hungry, he rolls in the red earth, so that he gives the impression of being all bloodied, then he lies on the ground, his legs in the air as if he were dead, he holds his breath and inflates his chest as he stops breathing. The birds imagine him dead; they will then land on him and at that moment he will grab them and eat them."


  • The HARE or RABBIT is one of the lunar animals in America, Europe, Africa and Asia. They are associated with the moon. They are seen in the dark spots of the stars of the night. He is associated with the Earth goddess and the underworld because he digs tunnels, he lives in the burrows to hide in the fields. In the cemeteries where he often lives, it is not uncommon to see him emerge from an old grave. His ability to procreate makes him a symbol of fertility connected to the moon.Naturally fearful, he is associated with fear. "Sensing like a hare evokes this fear", "Being mad as a rabbit evokes debauchery and licentiousness". 


Some words are little or lesser known. As it is old French lyrics, it is customary to pronounce them in the old fashioned way.


  • « J’ai ouï »    means I heard

  • « Cheuler »   means to drink

  • « R’beuiller » means to spy

  • « R’chigner » means to imitate


This very old song would be categorized MAUMARIÉE - badly married - in which the married woman recounts her misfortune enumerating the faults of her husband. It is an interesting parallel between the experiences of a husband and his wife and the symbolism of animals.


Another meaning is also mentioned in literature. At the time, in reference to the peasants of feudal society, the WOLF would represent the ROI, the FOX would correspond to the LORDS and the HARE to the CHURCH. For centuries, kings, lords and the church have celebrated, sung and danced, enjoying and exhibiting their wealth while the peasants are left to their own misery and poverty.nd poverty.


To continue and deepen this cultural research, why not offer some musical sound bytes where we hear the beautiful Dies Irae melody. Through this approach, you will be able to discover learning activities by situating it in different musical contexts and thus foster meaningful exchanges with your students.

  •   Hector Berlioz, Symphonie fantastique Songe d’une nuit de Sabbat (1830) 

  •   Franz Liszt, Danse macabre - in German: Totentanz (1849) 

  •   Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Dans les gouffres de l'Enfer (1872) 

  •   Jacques Brel in his song La mort (1959)

       Happy discovery!

  • Appel, Willi. Harvard Dictionary of Music, Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged, Cambridge, Massachussets, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1978, pages 234 et 235.

  • Barbeau, Marius. En roulant ma boule, Deuxième partie du Répertoire de la chanson folklorique française du Canada,Ottawa, Canada, Musée national de l’Homme et Musées nationaux du Canada, 1982, 753 pages.

  • CPEM du Rhône Histoire des arts, CPEM, Inspection académique du Rhône, France, 2009, 42 pages.

Musical extract: J'ai vu le loup, celtic version
00:00 / 01:49

Song in old French

Orff Instrumentation

      Celtic version 

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