12-25-2020 - Silent Night, Holy Night: First Heard 202 Years Ago in Oberndorf, Austria
Silent Night, Holy Night
It was 202 years ago when "Silent Night" was first heard by Austrian villagers attending Christmas Eve mass in St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf. A simple melody. Words of comfort. A beloved hymn of peace. It's a song about a calm and bright silent night, and the wonder of a tender and mild newborn child, words written in 1816 by a young priest in Austria, Joseph Mohr, not long after the Napoleonic wars had taken their toll. That priest went for a walk before he wrote it, and he looked out over a very quiet, winter-laden town.
It was Christmas Eve, 1818, when the now-famous carol was first performed as Stille Nacht Heilige Nacht. Joseph Mohr, the young priest who wrote the lyrics, played the guitar and sang along with Franz Xaver Gruber, the choir director who had written the melody.
The composition evolved, and was translated into over 300 languages with many different arrangements for various voices and ensembles. It was sung in churches, in town squares, even on the battlefield during World War I, when, during a temporary truce on Christmas Eve, soldiers sang carols from home. "Silent Night," by 1914, known around the world, was sung simultaneously in French, German and English.
Over the years, the carol's mystique grew with its popularity. After the original manuscript was lost, for decades, some speculated that the music had been written by Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven. In 1994, an original manuscript was found in Mohr's handwriting, with Gruber named as composer.
The English version of "Silent Night" is typically sung in three verses:
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 Alleluia! Christ, the Savior is born, Christ, the Savior is born.
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.