Christmas Tips & Fun

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Music of Christmas

Things You Might Not Know About Silent Night

T

he story that Silent Night was composed by the priest Father Joseph Mohr and the melody by the Austrian headmaster (or choirmaster) Franz Xaver Gruber in 1818 in Obendorf, Austria on Christmas Eve. It was to be sung with guitar accompaniment because the church organ wasn’t working.

Well, that’s one story. There’s actually a Silent Night Society in Austria that tries to organize (sorry about the pun) the facts about the creation of the carol that was sung in French, English and German by the troops in the trenches during the 1914 Christmas truce during WWI.

Another theory is that Father Mohr just liked the way a guitar sounded – and the organ was working fine, thank you very much. In any case, the original version – according to Gruber – was supposed to be more of a dance tempo than the lullaby version we sing today, and that there wasn’t any special reason for creating it other than as a new carol for Christmas.

Both the original music and the church in which it was performed are gone. There is a contemporary copy of the music, in Mohr’s hand, that dates to 1820 and shows that he had actually written the words in 1816 before springing them on Gruber on Christmas Eve of 1918 for a church performance that same night.

The church had been damaged in a flood and was torn down in the early 1900s – and much of the town moved to higher ground. There is a memorial museum on the original site of the church, along with a small chapel.

Over the years Silent Night has been sung by just about everyone in recorded music – from Bing Crosby to Boyz II Men to Enya (in Irish) and Mannheim Steamroller (in synthesizer).

Written by Dianne Weller
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