Note on "The Morning Star"

This song, which might be called a carol as well as an anthem, was composed nearly a century ago by an American Moravian. The Moravians, or members of the Church of the United Brethren, first came to America in the second quarter of the 18th century. They cultivated both vocal and instrumental music, especially at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the center of their activities in the North.

Francis Florentine Hagen was the last creative musician among the Moravians in America. He was born at Salem, North Carolina, in 1815. He became a teacher in Nazareth Hall (near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania), served as a minister of the Moravian Church in several places, and held various other offices. He retired to Lititz, Pa., where, in 1907, he died at the age of ninety-one. His earliest compositions date back to 1834. According to tradition, "The Morning Star" was written at Salem in 1842. It was originally composed to a German text, a poem by Johann Scheffler (1624-1677), better known as Angelus Silesius. In the early seventies it was adapted to English words.

This song apparently acquired at once a traditional place in the Christmas service of the Moravian Church. As early as 1856 it is mentioned as if it were a monument of the past, in a poem written by General William Emil Doster in praise of Bethlehem:

 

That grand old anthem, pride of Christmas even,
Around yon church's arches carolled near and far;
Such songs sung th' angelic hosts, hailing on orient heaven
That Morning Star!

 

Rufus A. Grider, who first tried to record Bethlehem's splendid musical history, also refers to the composition in his description of the service on Christmas Eve: "The anthem, although simple, and intended for children only, has taken deep roots in the hearts of the congregation, who never seem to tire of its performance." More than sixty years have passed since Grider made this remark, but it still holds true. The composition, however, is as yet unknown outside of Moravian circles.

"The Morning Star" was originally written for a child's voice, solo' answered at intervals by a group of children singing in unison, with organ accompaniment. A version for soprano solo and mixed chorus was published in the Moravian hymnbook, in 1876; but the accompaniment, which adds much to the charm of the piece, was not included. The present edition is based upon manuscripts from the church libraries at Bethlehem and Lititz. The vocal parts are unchanged, except for the addition of four eighth-notes in the choral soprano at the beginning of measures 9 and 11. The accompaniment had to be polished in several places. We are indebted to the Reverend Ernest Smyser Hagen for permission to publish the piece completely.

The composition, which originally was conceived in B flat major and could be transposed at convenience, may be performed by a soprano solo (preferably a child) either with a chorus of high voices in unison singing the soprano part of this edition, or with a mixed chorus. Well sung, "The Morning Star" will hold its own with any of the popular Christmas songs; there certainly has been none composed in this country which better deserves to be known and sung.

 

H. T. D. (copyright 1939 by G. Schirmer, Inc.)

 


 

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