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Silent Night – the world-famous christmas 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 in 1818. Joseph Mohr had given his partner the lyrics with the request for composing a harmonious melody. Equipped with a guitar they performed “Silent Night! Holy Night!” on 24 December 2018 for the first time – a song that enchanted the world.

However, one question arises: how could the song spread from the little town of Oberndorf all over the world? A few coincidences came together:

The organ builder Carl Mauracher from Fügen, Zillertal received the order to repair the organ at St. Nikola church in Oberndorf. During his stays in the years 1818/19 and 1823/24 he re-built the organ and got to know the song “Silent Night! Holy Night!”, a song he braught back to his hometown Zillertal valley in Tirol.

A song spreads

Two singer families from the Zillertal in Tirol travelled through the world and inspired people with their traditional music from Leipzig to New York and St. Petersburg: the family Rainer from Fügen and the siblings Strasser from Hippach. In 1822 the Rainer siblings sang in the Fügen church choir and liked the piece. In turn, they performed various folksongs for the Habsburg Emperor Franz I and Russian Czar Alexander I at Fügen Mansion. In autumn 1824 the siblings started their first journey abroad from Fügen to Germany and established the era of the “Tyrolean Nationalsingers”. One year later, in November 1825, the Ur-Rainer siblings started their second concert tour from Fügen to Germany, Sweden and Great Britain. The concert tours through Europe lasted till 1838. In the year 1831 the Strasser siblings performed the song “Silent Night! Holy Night!” at the christmas market in Leipzig as well as during the Christmas matins in the royal-saxon court chapel of the Pleißenburg. Both families spread the famous christmas song all over the world.

Silent Night – a peace song

However, “Silent Night! Holy Night!” is not only 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 soldiers spent a peaceful Christmas Eve that was to go down in history as the Christmas truce. Though, the day after they continued their fights.
  • 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.
  • In SalzburgerLand 7 Silent-Night-locations feature the history of this song. Those towns are not only worth a visit during the Christmas season, but moreover during the entire year.
  • In the 1940s, the majority of Americans believed that “Silent Night! Holy Night!” was an American folk song.

Re-experience the magic of “Silent Night! Holy Night!” a song that you have probably heard quite often: regardless of whether it is during 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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