Silent Night

How the song 'Silent Night' originated
By Hans Kopp

It was a few days before Christmas in the year 1818 when the organ of the little church in Oberndorf near Salzburg broke and Pastor Joseph Mohr was afraid not to have any music at the "Christmas Eve Mass".

On the long way home from a sick call on the nearby mountain during the fortnight, as pastor Mohr walked through the snow in this silent and holy night, the words came upon him as the snowflakes from the sky.

As soon as Joseph Mohr reached the town he quickly wrote down the words and made a stop at the schools principle house Xaver Gruber, to ask him to write a melody to the words he just wrote. Gruber set down and shortly after brought the finished melody to pastor Mohr on Christmas Eve.

And so for the first time on December 25, 1818 the song was presented to the congregation in this little church in Oberndorf. Gruber played the melody on his guitar and also sang the voice bass while Mohr sang tenor.

The church choir which had hardly time to practice the song repeated the refrain to the each verse. This saved a "Christmas Eve" in Oberndorf from not having any music on that "Silent and Holy Night".

The song was never sungafter this until six years later when it was discovered by the (organbuilder, Karl Mauracher in Oberndorf while installing a new organ in the church. The Strasser Sisters, a singing group, who made their home also in the Zillertal valley, near Innsbruck, Austria, were always on the search of new songs.

When they arrived in Salzburg to give a concert there, they presented the song, the Organbuilder had found and brought to their attention. The Sisters liked it so much, that it became a main stay on their program.

Christmas celebration in the Alps

Christmas celebration in the Alps

The sisters also toured Leipzig, where they presented the song. Two years later it was sold in print in Leipzig for the first time under the title "Achtes Tirolerlied" (The eight Tyrolian Song). The composer and writer of the song are not even mentioned.

During that time it was still far away from becoming the most famous German/Austrian Christmas song, but the Strasser Sisters would now sing it on every one of their tours in Austria and Germany.

The song came to prominence in the middle of the 19th Century. It was heard around the German speaking towns of Salzburg, Innsbruck, Vienna and in towns like Dresden, Leipzig, Berlin, Cologne and Munich.

By 1860 it was included in many German songbooks. "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht" is already part of every small and large Christmas celebration, played and sung in large cathedrals, small chapels or just at family gathering.

Now the song is not only known to the German speaking peoples but was translated into many foreign languages and begins spreading around the globe. It is sung in French, Spanish, Italian, English, just about every place where Christmas is celebrated.

Silent Night Holy Night Chapel in Oberndorf

Silent Night Holy Night Chapel in Oberndorf

Still few people know about its origin. At the World's Fair of 1873 the song was found in a songbook in the American pavilion named "Carol of Salzburg". Since the origin of the song is not known to many a search began for the authors of the song.

The son of the composer Franz Xaver Gruber was able to proof the authorship through original handwriting of his father. Even though some still questioned the authenticity of this simple melody and inspiring words for all Christians.

The church (Saint Nickolaus Kirche) in Oberndorf, where the song was heard for the first time was razed in the early part of the 20th century due to structural damage.

In 1937 the Gruber-Mohr Memorial chapel was dedicated to these two simple and religious men on the spot where the original church stood. They have given the world the most beautiful Christmas song.

Here is a video of Stille Nacht (Silent Night) sung by German Americans at the 2009 Christmas party for the German-American Business Association in Cleveland. Led by Renate Jakupca and Maria Roth and Stan Mejac on accordion.

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