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Away in a Manger

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Wikipedia article

{{Infobox musical composition

| name = Away in a Manger

| type =

| image = The Birth of Jesus.jpg

| alt =

| caption = "The Birth of Jesus" (1878) by Gustave Dor

| translation =

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| composer =

| genre = Christmas carol

| occasion =

| text =

| language =

| written = 1882

| based_on =

| meter =

| melody = "Cradle Song" by William J. Kirkpatrick, "Mueller" by James R. Murray

| composed =

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"'Away in a Manger'" is a Christmas carol first published in the late nineteenth century and used widely throughout the English-speaking world. In Britain, it is one of the most popular carols; a 1996 Gallup Poll ranked it joint second. Although it was long claimed to be the work of German religious reformer Martin Luther, the carol is now thought to be wholly American in origin. The two most-common musical settings are by William J. Kirkpatrick (1895) and James Ramsey Murray (1887).


The popularity of the carol has led to many variants in the words, which are discussed in detail below. The following are taken from Kirkpatrick (1895):


Almost every line in the carol has recorded variants. The most significant include the following:

* Verse 1, line 1: The earliest sources have "no crib for 'his' bed". "No crib for 'a' bed" is found in Murray (1887).

* Verse 1, line 2: The earliest sources have "'lay' down his sweet head". "'Laid'" is first found in "Little Children's Book" (1885) see lie/lay distinction.

* Verse 1, line 2: Some sources, from as early as 1900, have "his 'wee' head" instead of "his sweet head".

* Verse 1, line 3: The earliest sources have "[t]he stars in the sky looked down where he lay", leading to this line having only ten syllables as opposed to the eleven of the other lines of the verse (unless "looked" is pronounced as two syllables, as is done in some musical settings). Herbert (1891) substituted "stars in the 'heaven'", and Gabriel (1892) "stars in the 'heavens'" to regularize the meter. Kirkpatrick (1895) may have been the first to use "stars in the 'bright' sky".

* Verse 1, line 4: The earliest sources have "asleep 'in' the hay". Murray (1887) changes this to "'on' the hay".

* Verse 2, line 1: The earliest sources have "the 'poor' baby wakes". "The baby 'awakes'" is found in Herbert (1891).

* Verse 2, line 3: Some sources have "look down from 'on high'"

* Verse 2, line 4: This line has a multitude of variants:

** "And stay by my crib watching my lullaby" (Christian Cynosure, 1882)

** "And stay by my crib to watch lullaby" (Seamen's Magazine, 1883)

** "And stay by my cradle to watch lullaby" (Murray, 1887)

** "And watch by me always, and ever be nigh" (1890)

** "And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh" (Herbert, 1891)

** "And watch o'er my bed while in slumber I lie" (1893)

** "And stay by my side until morning is nigh" (1905)

* Verse 3 is absent from the earliest publications. It first appears in 'Gabriel's Vineyard Songs' (1892).

* Verse 3, line 4: Instead of "'take us to' heaven", one popular variant found from 1899 has "'fit us for' heaven".


First and second verses

The origin of the words is obscure. An early appearance was on 2 March 1882, in the "Childrens' Corner" section of the anti-masonic journal 'The Christian Cynosure'. Under the heading "Luther's Cradle Song", an anonymous author contributed the first two verses, writing:

A near-identical article appeared in the November 1883 issue of 'The Sailors' Magazine and Seamen's Friend'.

Another early version was published in 'Little Pilgrim Songs', a book of Christian music for young children whose preface is dated 10 November 1883. 'Little Pilgrim Songs' includes a similar claim that the song was written "by Martin Luther for his own children".

An article in the May 1884 issue of 'The Myrtle', a periodical of the Universalist Publishing House in Boston, also included the carol, stating that: All four sources include almost-identical text of the first two verses, with no music. 'Little Pilgrim Songs' and 'The Myrtle' both suggest the melody of 'Home! Sweet Home!'.

Third verse

The third stanza, "Be near me, Lord Jesus", is absent from the known early sources. Its first known appearance was in 'Gabriel's Vineyard Songs' (1892), where it was set to a melody by Charles H. Gabriel (simply marked "C"). Gabriel credited the entire text to Luther and gave it the title "Cradle Song". Decades later, a story was published attributing the third verse to John T. MacFarland:

Since this story dates the composition of the stanza to 19041908, over a decade after its first known appearance, Hill judges that "the 1892 publication [of 'Gabriel's Vineyard Songs'] renders the Bishop's story suspect, and additional evidence must be found before McFarland can be safely credited with the writing of the third stanza". It has been suggested that Gabriel may have written the third stanza himself and attributed it to Luther.


By Christmas of 1883, "Luther's Cradle Song" was already being performed as a recitation as part of a Sunday School celebration in a church in Nashville. The early popularity of the hymn may also be reflected in a report (published in 1885, but covering the year 1884) from an American mission in Maharashtra, India, stating that: By 1891, Hill writes, "the carol was sweeping the country [the United States]", with at least four musical settings published that year.

Spurious attribution to Luther

The great majority of early publications ascribe the words to German Protestant reformer Martin Luther. Many go so far as to title the carol "Luther's Cradle Song" or "Luther's Cradle Hymn", to describe the English words as having been 'translated' from Luther, or to speak of its alleged popularity in Germany.For example, Murray (1887) repeats 'The Myrtle''s title of "Luther's Cradle Hymn" and the claim that it was "[c]omposed by Martin Luther for his children, and still sung by German mothers to their little ones". The claim of Luther's authorship continued to be made well into the 20th century, but it is now rejected as spurious for the following reasons:

* No text in Luther's known writings corresponds to the carol.

* No German text for the carol has been found from earlier than 1934, more than 50 years after the first English publication. That German text reads awkwardly, and appears to be the result of a translation from the English original.

* The unadorned narrative style of the carol is atypical of Luther who, Hill states, "could never throw off his role of educator and doctrinarian".

* When some earlier 19th-century sources do mention a carol written by Luther for his son Hans, they are referring to a different text: Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her.

Richard Hill, in a comprehensive study of the carol written in 1945, suggested that "Away in a Manger" might have originated in "a little play for children to act or a story about Luther celebrating Christmas with his children", likely connected with the 400th anniversary of the reformer's birth in 1883.

Theological ambiguity

In the second verse, the line "no crying he makes" is considered by some to fall into the heresy of docetism, with the line's implication that, by not crying, Jesus could not have been fully human as is taught by orthodox Christian doctrine.

However, as the first two lines of that verse make clear, the context is that of a newborn having fallen asleep sometime after birth (see last line of v.1), and being later awakened by the lowing of nearby cattle. Some infants when napping usually do so and others wake and lie quietly (unless hungry, wet, or otherwise distressed), so there is nothing "not fully human" about Jesus' behavior.



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The most popular musical setting in the United States is commonly known as "Mueller". The melody was first published, under the title "Luther's Cradle Hymn", by James R. Murray in his collection 'Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses' (1887).

Murray included a claim that the hymn was "[c]omposed by Martin Luther for his children". Hill writes:

As a result of this "tactical mistake", Murray's melody appeared, without credit, in several subsequent publications. By 1914, the melody was attributed to "Carl Mueller", and this attribution was repeated several times in other publications. The identity of "Carl Mueller" is unknown, but the tune is widely known as "Mueller" as a result.

"Cradle Song"

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The standard melody in Britain and Ireland is "Cradle Song". The tune, written by the American composer William J. Kirkpatrick, was first published as part of the collection 'Around the World with Christmas' (1895), a "Christmas Exercise" for schools featuring material representing various countries: "Away in a Manger" was included, under the title "Luther's Cradle Hymn", as a representative of "The German Fatherland".

Kirkpatrick's melody was later published in numerous hymn-books, and was the setting that, in Hill's words, "first carried the words beyond the confines of the United States", being included in collections such as Carey Bonner's 'Sunday School Hymnary' (1905). It remains the most popular musical setting of "Away in a Manger" outside the United States.

Other musical settings

In his article "Not so far away in a Manger, forty-one settings of an American carol", published in the 'Music Library Association Notes' (second series) III, no. 1 for December 1945, Richard Hill treated 41 of the nearly 200 different musical settings of this text.

The first music mentioned in connection with "Away in a Manger" was a pre-existing composition: 'Home! Sweet Home!' (also known as "There's No Place Like Home"). This was suggested as a musical setting in 'Little Pilgrim Songs' (1883) and 'The Myrtle' (1884), and continued to be mentioned as an appropriate melody for decades to come.E.g.

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A musical arrangement was published in the early 1920s.; mentioned by Hill

The first known musical setting specifically published with the words appeared in an Evangelical Lutheran Sunday School collection, 'Little Children's Book for Schools and Families' (1885; preface dated Christmas 1884), where it simply bore the title "Away in a Manger". It was set to a tune called "St. Kilda", credited to J.E. Clark. The tune, according to Hill, "gives every appearance of being a standard melody used elsewhere for other hymns", but Hill adds that "no information on J. E. Clark or any other printing of his tune, previous or later, has been located." This publication is also notable for refraining from attributing the carol to Luther.

The melody by John Bunyan Herbert, reproduced in Hill (first published in 1891), is identified by Hill as among the most popular. Like Murray's, Herbert's setting was often republished without credit to the original composer, with the melody sometimes even being misattributed to Luther himself.

Charles H. Gabriel, already mentioned as being the first to publish the third verse in 1892, is also notable for having published more different musical arrangements of the hymn than any other known composer.In detail:

* (Copyright 1892 by Guide Printing & Pub. Co.)

* (Copyright 1893 by Chas. H. Gabriel)

* (Copyright 1896 by Chas. H. Gabriel. E. O. Excell, Owner.) (Melody almost identical to that of 1892, but with a changed time signature and addition of a refrain)

* (Copyright 1899 by Henry Date)

* cited in Hill
His 1896 setting, reprinted in many different collections, is based on his 1892 melody but adds a chorus at the end of each verse, with the word "asleep" sung antiphonally.

Another popular arrangement, found at least as early as 1897, sets the words to Jonathan E. Spilman's 1838 melody "Flow Gently, Sweet Afton". Hill, writing in 1941, found Spilman's musical setting to be the second most published after Murray's.

An arrangement dating from 1911 sets the words to an "old Normandy Carol". This melody was subsequently published in Carols for Choirs, arranged by Reginald Jacques.

An arrangement by Christopher Erskine combines the two most-popular tunes for the hymn, from Kirkpatrick and Murray. Erskine's arrangement was first performed in 1996 at the annual pair of joint Carol Services in Manuka, Canberra, sung by the choirs of St Paul's Church (Anglican) and St Christopher's Cathedral (Roman Catholic). In this version, the Kirkpatrick setting is sung by one choir, and the Murray setting by the other choir, alternating through the first two verses. Both settings are sung together for the third verse.


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