The Popular Christmas Carol - Silent Night ...
"Silent Night" (German: Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht) is a popular Christmas carol, composed in 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber to lyrics by Joseph Mohr in the small town of Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria. It was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2011. The song has been recorded by a large number of singers from every music genre. The version sung by Bing Crosby is the third best-selling single of all-time.
Silent-Night-Chapel in Oberndorf
The song was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, a village in the Austrian Empire on the Salzach river in present-day Austria. A young priest, Father Joseph Mohr, had come to Oberndorf the year before. He had already written the lyrics of the song “Stille Nacht” in 1816 at Mariapfarr, the hometown of his father in the Salzburg Lungau region, where Joseph had worked as a coadjutor.
The melody was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, schoolmaster and organist in the nearby village of Arnsdorf. Before Christmas Eve, Mohr brought the words
to Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the church service. Both performed the carol during the mass on the night of December 24th 1818.
The original manuscript has since been lost. However a manuscript was discovered in 1995 in Mohr's handwriting and dated by researchers at ca.1820. It shows that Mohr wrote the words in 1816 when he was assigned to a pilgrim church in Mariapfarr, Austria, and shows that the music was composed by Gruber in 1818. This is the earliest manuscript that exists and the only one in Mohr's handwriting.
The story behind composing the song was the subject of Christian Vuissa's 2012 film Stille Nacht (de). It was also the subject of the 2014 documentary ‘The First Silent Night’, narrated by Simon Callow.
In 1859, the Episcopal priest John Freeman Young, then serving at Trinity Church, New York City, published the English translation that is most frequently sung today. The version of the melody that is
generally used today is a slow, meditative lullaby, differing slightly (particularly in the final strain) from Gruber's original, which was a sprightly, dance-like tune in 6/8 time. Today, the lyrics and melody are in the public domain.
In December 1914, 'Silent Night', already a popular carol, took on a new sentimental edge during the first Christmas truce of World War One. It was, it seems, one of the few carols which both English and German soldiers knew, so as the guns fell silent for an all too brief period, the strains of 'Silent Night' filled the air instead.
The carol has been translated into about 140 languages.