In 1818, Christmas Eve the carol “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht” was heard for the first time in a town church in Oberndorf, Austria.
The congregation at that Midnight Mass in St. Nicholas Church listened as the voices of the assistant pastor, Father Joseph Mohr, and the choir director, Franz Xaver Gruber, sounded through the church to the accompaniment of Father Mohr’s guitar. On each of the 6 verses, the choir repeated the last 2 lines in four-part harmony. On that Christmas Eve, a song was born that would wing its method into the hearts of people throughout the world. Now equated into hundreds of languages, it is sung by untold millions every December from small chapels in the Andes to excellent cathedrals in Antwerp and Rome.
Though suggested for an efficiency in a church Silent Night was made up for guitar. That is rather unusual for those days. Joseph Mohr’s guitar (right) still can be seen at Hallein’s Franz Gruber Museum
Some fanciful tales. Today books, movies and Internet websites are filled with fanciful tales purporting to tell the history of “Silent Night.” Some tell of mice consuming the bellows of the organ creating the necessity for a hymn to be accompanied by a guitar. Others claim that Joseph Mohr was forced to write the words to a new carol in haste because the organ would not play. A recent movie, developed for Austrian television locations Oberndorf in the Alps and consists of evil railroad barons and a double-dealing priest, while a current book by a German author places a zither in the hands of Franz Gruber and links Joseph Mohr with a tragic fire engulfing the city of Salzburg. You can check out claims that “Silent Night” was sung on Christmas Eve in 1818 then forgotten by its developers. Obviously, the latter are easily marked down by manuscript arrangements of the carol by both Mohr and Gruber which were produced at different times in between 1820 and 1855. In this age of tabloid journalism, it’s not surprising that some feel it necessary to invent unimportant anecdotes and produce fables for a story that is quite lovely in its simpleness.
A young priest in Mariapfarr. The German words for the original 6 stanzas of the carol we know as “Silent Night” were composed by Joseph Mohr in 1816, when he was a young priest appointed to an expedition church in Mariapfarr, Austria. His grandpa lived close by, and it is simple to think of that he might have come up with the lyrics while walking through the countryside on a check out to his senior relative. The reality is, we have no concept if any particular event inspired Joseph Mohr to pen his poetic variation of the birth of the Christ child. The world is lucky, however, that he didn’t leave it behind when he was moved to Oberndorf the following year (1817).
Franz Gruber. On December 24, 1818 Joseph Mohr journeyed to the house of musician-schoolteacher Franz Gruber who resided in a house over the schoolhouse in close-by Arnsdorf. He revealed his good friend the poem and asked him to include a melody and guitar harmony so that it could be sung at Midnight Mass.
His reason for desiring the new carol is still not known. Some theorize that the organ would not work, but others feel that the assistant pastor, who a lot loved guitar music, merely desired a new carol for Christmas.