The American traditional song Go tell Aunt Rhody originated as a gavotte composed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau for his opera Le devin du village (1752).
An English version of the opera was produced in London in 1766; subsequently the melody attracted various English texts, including Sweet Melissa (ca. 1788), and inspired a set of variations by the London piano virtuoso Johann Baptist Cramer (Rousseau’s dream, 1812).
Around 1825 the tune—identified as Greenville or Rousseau—began appearing in U.S. hymnals. The Aunt Rhody version has appeared in numerous American traditional song anthologies, and is still often found in children’s song collections.
This according to “Go tell Aunt Rhody she’s Rousseau’s dream” by Murl Sickbert, an essay included in Vistas of American music: Essays and compositions in honor of William K. Kearns (Warren: Harmonie Park, 1999, pp. 125–150).
Today is Rousseau’s 300th birthday! Below, the classic Woody Guthrie recording of his immortal gavotte.