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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Howe


Away in a manger No crib for a bed The little Lord Jesus Lay down His sweet head

The stars in the sky Look down where He lay The little Lord Jesus Asleep on the hay

The history of this beloved Christmas tune is not straightforward because there is confusion over who wrote ‘Away in a Manger’. Originally it was thought to have been written by the German reformer Martin Luther and that he had written the lyrics as a poem to read to his own children. It was known far and wide as ‘Luther’s Cradle song’. It is now believed that he didn't write the lyrics and there is doubt about it even being a german song. So no one is quite sure who wrote them for sure but it is now felt the the carol is actually American in origin. The words we know have been set to different tunes many times, and without going into great detail about all of these versions, I will just tell you that the arrangement I have done is of the tune we all know, which is 'Cradle Song'. This is the standard melody in Britain, Ireland and Canada today and it was written by the American composer William J. Kirkpatrick. It was first published as part of the collection Around the World with Christmas (1895), which was a collection, for schools, of Christmas tunes representing various countries. "Away in a Manger" was included, under the title "Luther's Cradle Hymn", and it represented "The German Fatherland". Kirkpatrick's tune was later published in many hymnbooks, and was the setting that became, and still is to this day, the most popular musical setting of "Away in a Manger" outside the United States.

I have arranged two different versions of the tune. When deciding how to arrange famous tunes already written, especially ones as lovely and revered as this one, it is hard to decide what kind of arrangement to do. I wanted to create a super easy version for a string band but I wanted to also create something a bit diffierent. The one for string band is written for very early beginner players. I have created eleven parts which all fit together. If everyone wants to play an easy harmony part with open strings there is a version of the piano part that has the tune. If the players can cope with the tune, which features in a violin part and a cello part, then you can use a piano part that is only an accompaniment. There are 4 very simple harmony violin parts (1 is only open strings) and 3 simple harmony viola parts (1 of these is also open strings). There is one harmony cello part and a double bass part which could alternatively be played by another cello. This piece works with absolutely any combination of these parts. You can choose what works for your ensemble. The piece also works without piano. If you use the piano it comprises of a piano intro – which means you can use either piano backing track in performance – and two identical verses with the intro again between the two verses. It is such a versatile arrangement.

And the other arrangement is for three violins, with an alternative viola part which can replace the third violin. Of course, any number of violins can play this arrangement, it’s not just for three players. The first violin part is pitched quite high, in the top first position octave and that is why I have graded it ‘Moderate’. Tuning in this register is always tricky and because this arrangement would benefit from being played with soul and expression, I felt that slightly more experienced and advanced beginners might find it easier.


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