Away in a Manger
DESCRIPTION: "Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head." The baby never complains even amid the noise of the cattle. The singer asks that Jesus protect him/her and all children
EARLIEST DATE: 1885 ("Little Children's Book: for Schools and Families")
KEYWORDS: religious Jesus animal Christmas
REFERENCES (7 citations):
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 373, "Away In A Manger" (1 text)
Fuld-BookOfWorldFamousMusic, pp. 120-121+, "Away in a Manger"
Rodeheaver-SociabilitySongs, p. 105, "Luther's Cradle Hymn" (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: Charles Johnson, One Hundred and One Famous Hymns (Hallberg, 1982), p. 111, "Away In A Manger" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ian Bradley, _The Penguin Book of Carols_ (1999), #10, "Away In a Manger" (1 text)
Robert J. Morgan, _Then Sings My Soul, Book 2: 150 of the World's Greatest Hymn Stories_, Nelson, 2004, pp. 198-199, "Away in a Manger" (1 text, 1 tune)
cf. "Flow Gently Sweet Afton" (tune)
NOTES [419 words]: Although often called "Luther's Cradle Hymn," it is known that this is not by Martin Luther, and apparently is a purely American creation. Johnson, who usually gives some sort of background even if inaccurate, has nothing whatsoever to say about the piece. Fuld gives such details as are known.
Stulken, p. 170, mentions an article by Richard S. Hill, "Not so far away in a manger: Forty-one settings of an American Carol," which notes that the only German version seems to have originated in America in the 1930s -- but that the Pennsylvania Dutch, who were largely Lutheran, may have had a part in shaping it.
Several tunes are in use, and the tune published in 1885 is not the most familiar today; the usual American form is a relative of Jonathan Edwards Spilman's "Flow Gently Sweet Afton." Stulkin thinks it may have been set by James R. Murray (1841-1905), who published it in 1887. Stulkin considers Murray's other works unmemorable. This hypothesis also has the tentative support of Reynolds, pp. 40-41, who on pp. 386-387 says that Murray was born in Andover, Massachusetts, shortly after his parents emigrated from Scotland. Among his teachers were Lowell Mason, George F. Root, and William B. Bradbury among others (who in the 1850s had worked together to found the New York Normal Musical Institute, which presumably is where Murray studied with them). Murray served in the Union Army and then worked for Root and Cady, then taught music in Andover. From 1881, he went to Cincinnati, where he worked in music publishing for the rest of his life.
McKim, p. 26, also lists a tune by Murray, which goes by the title "Mueller," but mentions also a tune "Cradle Song" (1895) by William James Kirkpatrick (1838-1921). Kirkpatrick compiled more than eighty songbooks alone or in collaboration, but he doesn't seem to have produced much that is memorable.
Ian Bradley, in The Penguin Book of Carols, admits that this is "one of the most unScriptural" of popular carols (though he follows this up with a fierce defence of its place in the tradition). The charge against the song is nothing less than the truth; the only part with Biblical authority is the manger (Luke 2:7, 12, 16); there is no proof there were animals in the vicinity.
Despite all the evidence that it's not by Luther, and that there are multiple tunes, the legend that this is one of Luther's works persists; Rudin, p. 6, talks about him wandering about singing at Christmas. In modern English rather than medieval German, no doubt. - RBW
Last updated in version 6.3
- McKim: LindaJo H. McKim, Presbyterian Hymnal Companion, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993
- Reynolds: William Reynolds, Companion to Baptist Hymnal, Broadman Press, 1976
- Root: Deane L. Root, American Popular Stage Music 1860-1880, 1977 (as a Ph.D. thesis); UMI Research Press, 1981
- Rudin: Cecilia Margaret Rudin, Stories of Hymns We Love, John Rudin & Company, 1934 (I use the fourteenth printing of 1951)
- Stulken: Marilyn Kay Stulken, Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship, Fortress Press, 1981
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