Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Silent Night

Between now and Christmas, I will offer one post per day, each post dealing with a popular Christmas carol or song.  The histories of our favorite Christmas songs are so interesting.  My first description is of "Silent Night".......

"Silent Night" is probably the most popular Christmas carol of all time.  The original lyrics of the song were penned in German by the Austrian priest, Father Josef Mohr; and the melody was composed by Austrian headmaster, Franz Gruber.  Today's version of the melody differs slightly from Gruber's original.  Today, the lyrics and melody are in the public domain.
Josef Mohr
Gruber gives no mention of the specific inspiration of the song.  It was first performed in the church of St Nicholas in Oberndorf, Austria on Christmas eve, 1818.  Although Mohr had composed the words much earlier, in 1816, he brought the words to Gruber just before Christmas in 1818 and asked him to compose a guitar accompaniment for the church service.

The reason for a guitar accompaniment---instead of piano or organ---has been supposed that the church organ was inoperable at the time, and therefore a guitar was substituted for the organ.  Historians have noted, however, that the first mention of a possible broken organ was in a book published in 1909.  Many historians believe that Mohr simply wanted a new carol that he could play on his guitar.  The Silent Night Society says there are many romantic stories and legends that add their own anecdotal details to the known facts.

The original manuscript has been lost; however, a new manuscript was discovered in 1995 in Mohr's handwriting and dated by researchers at c. 1820.  This shows the date of the words and music as 1816 and 1818, respectively.

Another story claims that the carol, once performed, was forgotten until an organ repairman found the manuscript in 1825 and revived it.  This cannot be verified.

The carol has been translated in over 300 languages and dialects around the world.  Although written by Catholics, it is given special significance in Lutheranism.  The song was sung simultaneously by English and German troops during the Christmas truce of 1914.


  1. How interesting. Now I can impress people with this piece of trivia.

  2. A beautiful Christmas carol. I have always loved the story of both English and German troops singing this carol simualtaneously during the Christmas truce of 1914.

  3. I love this song: It's my favorite at Christmas.
    Many greetings Sabine

  4. I love this song.. Good memories..
    I love Xmas..
    Greetings from Australia

  5. Really interesting idea - never given it much thought, funny as they're the songs we all know so well. Perfect blog idea for the season!