Many stories have been told about the much loved and legendary carol - ‘Silent Night.’ – The Austrian carol is sung the world over at Christmas time and was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2011. Bing Crosby’s recorded version remains the third best-selling single of all time.On Christmas Eve in 1818, Joseph Mohr (1792-1848), the curate of Oberndorf, a small village close to Salzburg, was in despair. The mechanism of the church organ, was non- functioning due to the cold weather and some wear damage caused by mice. With the instrument beyond immediate repair, Mohr's congregation needed something to sing at midnight mass. Fresh from an earlier visit to a mother and her sick baby, he penned these verses:
Franz Gruber, the church organist and local school headmaster quickly set the verses to music and the carol-lullaby was sung later that night to a lone guitar accompaniment.
After Christmas, the carol made its way to the renowned singing group - The Strasser Family, who began to sing it at all their concerts. Already heard by Franz 1 of Austria and Alexander 1 of Russia, it was published by 1838 and first performed in New York in 1839.
The romance of this tale is to a large degree most likely fictional. The 1995 discovery of a manuscript of Gruber's melody indicates that the text was written by Mohr in 1816, roughly two years before the tune was added.
"Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht" was sung by the warring factions at the December 25 truce in the trenches of the First World War. Its popularity rose over the years and to this day it remains a stable Christmas favourite due to its simplicity in lyrics and melody.
Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!
Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love's pure light;
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.
An assembly text for ‘The Story of Silent Night’ (Two or more narrators)
Fr Josef Mohr worked in a small village, south of Salzburg. When it snowed there, it fell very heavily. Fr Josef decided to go out into the snow and make his way to see the Charcoal burner’s wife. The baby was very ill and they were worried it might die.
Tomorrow, he would be very busy with Christmas Masses. Tradition in Austria says it brings good luck to have a visit from a priest on Christmas Eve.
On the way home, he called to see the parish priest where he was inspired to write a new carol. He saw a painting that reminded him about a favourite carol he sang as a child. It was about a child being cradled.
Words began to form in his mind. And in the next hour he had written 6 Verses.
“Silent Night, Holy Night, still the earth, lone the night”.
After reading them over several times, he began to wonder were they his words at all. Perhaps they were words of a song he had heard his mother sing. She had a sweet voice and knew many songs.
He was haunted by the common expression of the local folk. Are all carols not as old as the Alps? They wondered if there could be a new carol at all!
He rushed off to see the organist in the church, Franz Gruber, to see if he could find a melody to suit the words. Gruber’s tune was simple and sweet. A perfect setting for the words.
Everyone looked forward to hearing it being sung in the chapel. But misfortune struck. The organ was out of order for the Midnight Mass
Fr Mohr dreaded telling the choir the bad news, on Christmas Eve of all times, but it had to be done.
“Children”, he said, “the organ is broken”.
“I think it could be a mouse in one of the pipes” said little Katerina. But after checking, they decided it would be sung with 2 guitars, a soloist and the choir.
It was Midnight Mass. And Time for Silent Night. As they sang, they seemed to become lost as if in a slow-moving dream. It was as if the song itself was being cradled and rocked gently. The Parish Priest that night thanked Fr Mohr and Mr Gruber for what he called a ‘song sent from heaven’.
Fr Mohr told his friends later that it seemed wrong to be proud of oneself in God’s own house.
The congregation sang the carol again. When they did, it was even more magical. Strangely, it sounded like there had never been a time when the song hadn’t existed. As though it was an old carol.
Fr Mohr was 24 when he wrote the text for Silent Night. Franz Gruber was 36. After its first performance, the song remained in obscurity for a number of decades. It was rediscovered by chance and sung by various wandering singers. Its fame spread to Germany and from there to America
On Christmas Eve 1914, a young German Soldier sang “Stille Nacht” or Silent Night from his trench. It led to the fighting forces joining in and hailing the famous Christmas Day truce on No Man’s Land.
Today, it is still the most popular Christmas Carol, translated into 100’s of languages. It has become almost impossible to go through the season without hearing and being touched by ‘Silent Night”.