First Published: 1885, Philadelphia / 1887, Cincinnati
- “Cradle” variation originally in G
- “Mueller” originally in F
History of “Away In a Manger”
“Away In a Manger” is a lullaby-like Christmas carol that has two official (and equally-accepted) melodies: “The Cradle Song” and “Mueller” variations. The carol was first seen in the 1885 Philadelphia publication Little Children’s Book for Schools and Families with a melody similar to the modern “Cradle Song”; the music, called “St. Kilda,” was credited to one mysterious J. E. Clark. A decade later, a variation of this tune by American composer William J. Kirkpatrick was published, and would become what we now refer to as the “alternate” melody of the carol (although this version remains most common in the U.K. today).
The “Mueller” variation – named for one of its assumed composers, Carl Mueller – is known for its similarly-gentle, yet descending melody. Credited to James Ramsey Murray, this adaptation made its first appearance as “Luther’s Cradle Hymn” in the 1887 Cincinnati publication Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses; and because Murray included the claim that Protestant theologian Martin Luther was the song’s original composer, many subsequent publications followed suit, turning this legend into common belief. Today, the “Mueller” melody remains particularly popular in North America, and since it didn’t fall into the public domain until 1943, this version of “Away In a Manger” is one of the newest Christmas carols that may still be considered “traditional.”
Lyrical Disputes (View Lyrics)
The original publications of “Away In a Manger” included the first two stanzas of the carol, but credited no lyrical author. The third stanza, which appeared in 1892, is sometimes ascribed to Dr. John Thomas McFarland; however, the provider of this information also stated that these lyrics were not written by McFarland until 1904-1908.
As for Martin Luther, lyrical clues seem to abolish any possibility of him being the author. Not only was the carol nearly unheard-of in Luther’s mother-tongue – German – until the second quarter of the 20th Century (centuries after his death); but the oldest-known German stanzas were deemed “translations” as opposed to original lyrics. In Richard S. Hill’s 1945 article Not So Far Away In A Manger: Forty-One Settings of an American Carol, he writes:
“Half an ear for natural prosody is sufficient to tell that the German is the translation, not the English … it seems essential to lay once for all the legend that Luther wrote a carol for his children, which no one else knew anything about, until it suddenly turned up in English dress four hundred years later in Philadelphia.”
Learn “Away In a Manger” on Piano
Complete sheet music for the carol’s “Mueller” variation in D major; recommended for the beginner/intermediate pianist.
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