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Fanny Mendelssohn (Hensel) was born on November 14th 1805 into a wealthy Jewish/Christian family in Hamburg, Germany. She was a prodigiously gifted piano player as a child, composing early in her years. Her adult life was defined by the social and gender conventions of her time; her father appreciated that music may become her profession but urged her that it should only be an ornament, not the root of her being and her doing. As both a woman and musician, she nevertheless pursued her musical talent and battled contemporary prejudice: "It must be a sign of talent that I do not give up, though I can get nobody to take an interest in my efforts." She was acknowledged as a better pianist than her more famous (and four years younger) brother Félix Mendelssohn, but found herself in his shadow. She only performed in public three times in her short life.


Fanny met Wilhelm Hensel when she was 16 but waited until she was 24 years old, in 1829, to marry the impecunious artist. She continued to compose and her piano work, Das Jahr (The Year) is considered to be one of the great piano suites of the 19th century. Her first publication was in 1846, just a year before she died. 


Fanny composed 450 musical works (including over 250 lieder, plus piano études, sonatas and quartets, string quartets, choral works) but died young from a stroke in 1847, aged 41. Her brother died of similar apoplexies six months later, aged 38, as had both their mother, father and grandfather. Felix once described death as a place ‘where it is to be hoped there is still music, but no more sorrow or partings.’ The Nazis may have tried to erase the Mendelssohn’s from German history, but their music happily now lives on.


Gebet in der Christacht (A Prayer on Christmas Eve) was written by Fanny as a song in 1823.  This edition is arranged for a cappella SATB choir; the translation and third verse have been slightly adapted for a more contemporary performance. Other Fullscore Publishing editions are available, arranged for SSA choir or as a short Piano solo.


Original song lyrics:


O Liebe, die am Kreuze rang,

O Liebe, die den Tod bezwang

Für alle Menschenkinder,

Gedenk' in dieser [sel'gen] Nacht,

Die dich zu uns herab gebracht,

Der Seelen, die dir fehlen!


O Liebe, die den Stern gesandt

Hinaus ins ferne Morgenland,

Die Könige zu rufen;

Die laut durch ihres Boten Mund

Sich gab den armen Hirten kund,

Wie bist du still geworden?


Noch eine fromme Hirtin liegt

In blindem Schlummer eingewiegt

Und träumt von grünen Bäumen.

Singt nicht vor ihrem Fensterlein

Ein Engel: Esther, lass mich ein,

Der Heiland ist geboren?


Original song lyrics by Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827)

Gebet in der Christnacht appears in

Gedichte aus den hinterlassenen Papieren eines reisenden Waldhornisten 1, in Johannes und Esther. Im Frühling zu lessen


Words used in this Fullscore edition:


O Love, that suffered on the cross,

O Love that conquered death

For all mankind.                                   

Remember on this holy night,

That brought you, brought you down to us,

Whose souls do long for you


O Love, who sent forth the star

In dark night sky of the Orient,

To summon three Kings from the East;

Loud angel voices sang so clear

To shepherds watching their flocks that night:

‘How wonderful, the sweet Lord Jesus has come to save us all!’


All is calm and all is bright

Yet still a sleeping shepherdess lies,

Dreaming of pastures green

An angel sings: ‘Wake up, dear Esther,

Now is the time, so sleep no more:

The Lord is born, sweet Jesus has come to save us all’.


No recording of this SATB choral arrangement of the original song has yet been made. 


The following recording is a similar but very different version (arranged by Olivia Sparkhall and published in Multitude of Voyces - Sacred Music by Women Composers Vol.1, details here):


Note: there are differences in both words and music between the above recording and this Fullscore Edition. Most notably, in the main tune, the Eb in bars 8,  25 & 42 has been changed to E natural. You may check the original manuscript, a copy of which can be studied on this page above. Feel free to sing it with whatever note you feel is 'correct' in each of the three verses.

Manuscript source: Staatsbibliothek Berlin



Sheet music cover image:

Die Heiligen Drei Könige (Werkstatt Gege, Seehausen am Staffelsee, 19th century)


Other photo source;
The Music Room (1849) of Fanny Hensel by Julius Eduard Wilhelm Helfft (from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum):  + Wikimedia.


Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel ~ Gebet in der Christnacht (for SATB Choir)

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