Words: Josef Mohr (1792-1848)
Music: Franz Gruber (1787-1863)
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 Al-le-lu-ia! Christ the Saviour is born! Christ the Saviour is born! Silent night, holy night! Wondrous star, lend thy light! With the angels let us sing Alleluia to our King! Christ the Saviour is here, Jesus the Saviour is here! 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.
While the composition of 'The Messiah" by Handel and "Chistmas Oratorio" by Bach in the 18th century had helped in-still the Christmas spirit in many, there was still the need for a simple song that could be sung by everyone. This song was finally found in "Silent Night" whose words were written by an Austrian village priest, Josef Mohr, and its melody by the church organist Franz Gruber. Born in Salzburg, Austria, Josef served l as a choir boy in his youth, and later became assistant pastor of the parish church in the small town of Oberndorf, in the Austrian Tyrol, not too far from the city of Salzburg, Franz Gruber, also born in Austria, was the son of a linen weaver. His father tried to persuade him to follow the same trade, but from the time he was a small child, Franz was fascinated by music. Without his father's knowledge, he would slip out secretly and go to his schoolmaster's home, where he learned to play the organ. Once, when the schoolmaster was ill, there would have been no music for the church service had Franz (then twelve years old) not volunteered to take his place. Franz was allowed to do so, and played the entire service from memory! After this, his father let him take regular music lessons. At the age of 20, upon completing his other studies, Franz became a teacher and also a church organist. On December 24, 1818, Mohr listened intently as his church organist and friend, Franz Gruber, told him that the pipe organ in the church would not be available for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, since it was damaged almost beyond repair. Unfortunately, mice had eaten the organ bellows, and because of the deep winter snows, it would not be possible for a repairman to arrive to restore the organ in time for the service. Father Mohr, not knowing what to do without the traditional organ music for the service, then received a messenger asking him to go out to bless the newborn babe of a peasant mother. Meanwhile, Gruber went back to the organ loft in a growing mood of despair and disappointment. He paced the floor, trying to come up with a solution to the problem that seemed to grow more critical with every passing hour. Perhaps seeing the child in the mother's arms reminded the priest of Mary and Baby Jesus, for as Father Mohr walked home through the snow on that starlit sky, he thought of that first Christmas when the angels sang to the wondering shepherds. Once back home, he thought over the events, and felt moved to put his feelings into words. Soon, without too much conscious effort on his part, the words began to flow from his pen. As fast as he scratched them down on a piece of paper, other words and lines came crowding in to take their place. Before he knew it, he had written several simple stanzas. However, he had no music for it, and he wanted the composition sung at the Christmas service. He hurried to see his friend, Franz, to ask him to furnish the melody for his words. Handing his friend a copy of his new stanzas, he said, "Franz, write some music for my new poem and we will sing it at the Midnight Mass, organ or no organ!" Mohr suggested that the song be composed and played on the guitar, but Gruber protested that he was an organist not a guitarist, and certainly not a composer. Mohr brushed his objections aside by explaining, "Surely you know three chords on the guitar." Gruber nodded as the pastor continued, "Then why not write the music as simple as possible using those three chords, arrange it, and tonight while you play, we will sing the new carol!" Gruber proceeded to do what Mohr requested, and within a hour or so, had completed the tune. He took it to the priest, who was delighted with it. At the Christmas service in 1818, the two men, singing the tenor and bass, formed a quartet with two women singers, and, to the accompaniment of Father Mohr's Italian guitar, introduced a new carol to the world. After having finally received Gruber's letter, asking him to come and fix the organ, an organ builder and repairman from the valley of Zillertal, Karl Mauracher arrived. When the instrument was in good playing order, Franz Gruber sat down to try the instrument. Father Mohr happened to be in the church that afternoon and insisted that Gruber play the music he had composed for the new Christmas carol. Upon hearing it, Mauracher was delighted, immediately fell in love with the tune and begged Gruber to give him a manuscript copy of the new song, asking if he might take it back with him to the Zillertal Valley and share it with the singers and musicians there who are always on the lookout for a new song. Mauracher took a copy of the carol back to his home town. The villagers were thrilled and called it the "Song from Heaven." Ten years later, Mauracher heard four children with exceptionally good voices, Caroline, Josef, Andreas and Amalie Strasser. He taught the carol to them, and they enjoyed singing it. As their parents were skillful glove-makers, the children went with them each year to the great fair at Leipzig, where Mr. and Mrs. Strasser offered their gloves for sale, While there, the children often sang in front of their parents' booth and on the streets to advertise their wares. To their great surprise, the General Director of Music of the Kingdom of Saxony, Mr. Pohlenz (who had heard them sing one day), asked them to attend a concert. At the close of the regular program Mr. Pohlenz invited them to come to the platform and sing before the King and Queen of Saxony. Although the young Strassers were nervous, they arose, went to the front of the hall, and sang several selections, including their favorite "Song from Heaven." Their singing created a sensation, and they were invited to the palace on Christmas Eve, 1832, to sing the carol again before the royal family. 'Silent Night" was first published in 1840 in Leipzig, as a Tyrolean Christmas carol, accompanied by the statement, 'The Hymn of Unknown Origin - Author and Composer Unknown." The King of Prussia, Frederick Wilhelm IV, heard "Silent Night" for the first time in 1854, when it was sung by the entire choir of the Imperial Church in Berlin. He declared that this song should be given first place at all Christmas concerts in his country; he also instructed his court musicians to try to find out the names of the author and composer. That year, these men got in touch with the monks of St. Peter's monastery in Salzburg, and inquired whether they had any information about the origin of the song. By a fortunate turn of events, a choir boy there, the son of Franz Gruber, heard of the investigation, and he soon convinced the monks that it was his father's music. Years later, in 1897, a tablet honoring Franz Gruber was placed on the school where he had taught. "Silent Night" is said to have a wider use than any other Christmas carol. It has been translated into many different languages, and sung in some of the most distant and isolated countries. Thus it has spread from a small Austrian village throughout the entire world.
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