#206 Away in a Manger

Music & voice:
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Music only:
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1. Away in a manger, no crib for his bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head;
The stars in the heavens looked down where he lay,
The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.

2. The cattle are lowing; the poor baby wakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.
I love thee, Lord Jesus; look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

3. Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And fit us for heaven to live with thee there.
Text: Anon., ca. 1883, Philadelphia

Music: William J. Kirkpatrick, 1838-1921; harmonized by Rosalee Elser,1925-2007. (c) 1980 Rosalee Elser.

-History: (Source: Wikipedia)

Away in a Manger” is a Christmas carol first published in 1885 in Philadelphia and used widely throughout the English-speaking world. In Britain it is one of the most popular carols, a 1996 Gallup Poll ranking it joint second.[1]

The song was first published with two verses in an Evangelical Lutheran Sunday School collection, Little Children’s Book for Schools and Families (1885), edited by James R. Murray (1841–1905), where it simply bore the title “Away in a Manger” and was set to a tune called “St. Kilda,” credited to J.E. Clark.[2]

For many years the text was credited to the German reformer Martin Luther. Research has shown, however, that this is nothing more than a fable.[3] In the book Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses (1887) it bears the title “Luther’s Cradle Hymn” and the note, “Composed by Martin Luther for his children, and still sung by German mothers to their little ones.”[4] A possible reason for the spurious attribution to Luther is that the 400th anniversary of his birth was in 1883. The words were either based on a poem written for this anniversary or were credited to Luther as a clever marketing gimmick.[5] This song has never been found in Luther’s works. The first half of the melody is identical to the beginning of the second theme of Waltz #4, transposed down a fourth, in G’schichten aus dem Wienerwald, Op. 325 by Johann Strauss Jr., composed 19 years earlier.[6]

The third stanza, “Be near me, Lord Jesus” was first printed in Gabriel’s Vineyard Songs (1892), where it appeared with a tune by Charles H. Gabriel (simply marked “C”), thus these words are probably by Gabriel. Gabriel credited the entire text to Luther and gave it the title “Cradle Song.” This verse is sometimes attributed to Dr. John McFarland, but since the popular story dates his contribution to 1904 (postdating the 1892 printing by 12 years), his contribution is highly questionable.[7]

Tom Jennings, director of worship and arts, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, consider this carol has odd or misleading lyrics, such as ‘no crying he makes’. This lyric misses a key aspect of the Incarnation, Jesus entered into our suffering.[8]

The lyrics and music are very similar to a very old Austrian (Tyrolian) folk song from the Brixon Valley, called ‘Es Wird Scho Glei Dumpa,’ which in German is ‘Es Wird Schon Gleich Dunkel.’ The first verse is roughly translated as:

It will be dark,
It is already night,
Drum I come to thee,
My Saviour to watch.
We sing a little song
The young child, the small one.
You may not sleep so,
I hear you cry only.

Hey, hey, hey, hey
Sleep sweet loving heart’s child.

This was a lullaby and folk song in Austria long before attributed to Martin Luther, but was first published in 1913 in a collection named ‘Tyrolian Real Tracks,’ and attributed to the Austrian dialect poet and Catholic clergyman, Anton Reid.[9]

Murray’s tune, which is the tune most commonly printed in the U.S., is typically given the name “Mueller.” The tune “Cradle Song” was written by William J. Kirkpatrick for the musicalAround the World with Christmas (1895). Kirkpatrick, like others before him, attributed the words to Luther. Thus, there are two different melodies for “Away In A Manger”. Each setting has a harmony version for S, A, T, B.

The two tunes actually fit together quite well. An arrangement by Christopher Erskine combining both settings (harmony), first heard in 1996 in Canberra at the annual pair of joint Carol Services in Manuka, performed 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.

It is also sung to an adaptation of the melody originally composed in 1837 by Jonathan E. Spilman to Flow gently, sweet Afton.