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Silent Night – the world-famous song

History and background of "Silent Night! Holy Night!"

Silent sounds were heard on Christmas Eve, 1818 in Oberndorf from only a guitar and two voices singing, and yet this was to become the most famous Christmas song in the world. In 1816, Joseph Mohr composed a poem filled with hope. Two years later Franz Xaver Gruber composed the melody, not realising that this simple Christmas Carol will become world-famous.

Everything started in SalzburgerLand

Franz Xaver Gruber and Joseph Mohr already knew each other for a while when the memorable performance took place on Christmas Eve, 1818. Joseph Mohr had given his partner the text with the request for setting, and so now – equipped with a guitar and two voices – they sat next to the altar, and for the first time they sang a song that was to enchant the world.

The question lingered: how could the song spread from the little town of Oberndorf all over the world? A few coincidences came together:

The organ at the St Nicholas Church in Oberndorf was broken at the time of the first performance in 1818. That’s why the piece was performed with a guitar, and that’s also why organ builder Karl Mauracher was in Oberndorf at that time. After that, Mauracher brought the song to his hometown Fügen in the Zillertal valley.

A song spreads

At that time, the Rainer siblings sang in the Fügen church choir and liked the piece. In turn, they sang this song for the Habsburg Emperor Franz I and Russian Czar Alexander I at Fügen Mansion in 1822. At the same time, friends of the siblings brought Silent Night to Dresden, where it was gained more popularity within a collection of Tyrolean songs. Royal houses in different countries took to the song and so it was performed for a wide audience.

Silent Night – a peace song

But Silent Night, Holy Night is not just a Christmas carol. Unlike other Advent and Christmas carols, its special importance emerges in the immediate peace that everyone has probably experienced on Christmas Eve. But also detached from the meaning of this day for families and Christians all over the world, Franz Xaver Gruber created a comforting and peaceful melody which has been perceived by many people since that time as peace-bringing. Placido Domingo most aptly encapsulated it when he said: “I think ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’ would be predestined as the world peace song, like hardly any other song on earth.”

We can only agree with him.

Things worth knowing about Silent Night

  • Since 2011, the Christmas carol has been on the Austrian List of Intangible Cultural Heritage and symbolises Christmas customs in Austria.
  • Silent Night, Holy Night has been translated into more than 300 languages and dialects, including Latin and the constructed language Esperanto.
  • On 24 December 1914 – i.e. in the middle of the First World War – this song brought German, Belgian, French and British soldiers a short spell of peace in the senseless dying on the Western Front: weapons were put down and the men spent a peaceful Christmas Eve that was to go down in history as the Christmas truce. On the next day they zeroed in on each other again.
  • The German-Austrian feature film Das ewige Lied (Silent Night in the English-language version) tells the story of the song’s origin with Austrian actor Tobias Moretti in the leading role. But in large part, the film was not shot at the original locations.
  • The Silent Night Land Salzburg makes this unique song available in 7 locations, which are not only worth a visit during the Christmas season.
  • In the 1940s, the majority of Americans believed that “Silent Night” was an American folk song.

Re-experience the magic of Silent Night, a song that you have probably heard often: regardless of whether it is at Christmas in Oberndorf in the Silent Night Chapel or played from a tower at the Christmas Market in Salzburg. Christmas has its very own magic in SalzburgerLand.

Das ewige Lied - the film Silent Night, Holy Night
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