Silent Night

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Stille Nacht / Silent Night

by Franz Xaver Gruber (music) Joseph Mohr (lyrics)

[German]

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’.
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Christ, in deiner Geburt!

[English]

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 Saviour is born!
Christ the Saviour 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!

______________________

This is an excellent Christmas carol. I have great admiration for anything which helps German to sound pleasant to the ear (this ability is among the proofs of Mozart’s genius.)

Romance Language propaganda

So… let it never be said that the German language has not given sound to surpassing beauty.

The history of Silent Night, and its composition, is interesting. More from wiki:

“Stille Nacht” was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, a village in the Austrian Empire on the Salzach river in present-day Austria. A young Catholic priest, Father Joseph Mohr, had come to Oberndorf the year before. In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, he had written the poem “Stille Nacht” in 1816 at Mariapfarr, the hometown of his father in the Salzburg Lungau region, where Joseph had worked as an assistant priest.

The melody was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, schoolmaster and organist in the nearby village of Arnsdorf [de], now part of Lamprechtshausen. On Christmas Eve 1818, Mohr brought the words to Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for that night’s mass, after river flooding had possibly damaged the church organ. The church was eventually destroyed by repeated flooding and replaced with the Silent-Night-Chapel. It is unknown what inspired Mohr to write the lyrics, or what prompted him to create a new carol.

According to Gruber, Karl Mauracher, an organ builder who serviced the instrument at the Oberndorf church, was enamoured of the song, and took the composition home with him to the Zillertal. From there, two travelling families of folk singers, the Strassers and the Rainers, included the tune in their shows. The Rainers were already singing it around Christmas 1819, and once performed it for an audience that included Franz I of Austria and Alexander I of Russia, as well as making the first performance of the song in the U.S., in New York City in 1839. By the 1840s the song was well known in Lower Saxony and was reported to be a favourite of Frederick William IV of Prussia. During this period, the melody changed slightly to become the version that is commonly played today.

Over the years, because the original manuscript had been lost, Mohr’s name was forgotten and although Gruber was known to be the composer, many people assumed the melody was composed by a famous composer, and it was variously attributed to HaydnMozart, or Beethoven. However, a manuscript was discovered in 1995 in Mohr’s handwriting and dated by researchers as c. 1820. It states that Mohr wrote the words in 1816 when he was assigned to a pilgrim church in Mariapfarr, Austria, and shows that the music was composed by Gruber in 1818. This is the earliest manuscript that exists and the only one in Mohr’s handwriting.

Translations:

In 1859, the Episcopal priest John Freeman Young, then serving at Trinity Church, New York City, wrote and published the English translation that is most frequently sung today, translated from three of Mohr’s original six verses. The version of the melody that is generally used today is a slow, meditative lullaby or pastorale, differing slightly (particularly in the final strain) from Gruber’s original, which was a “moderato” tune in time and siciliana rhythm. Today, the lyrics and melody are in the public domain, although newer translations usually are not.

In 1998 the Silent Night Museum in Salzburg commissioned a new English translation by Bettina Klein of Mohr’s German lyrics. Whenever possible, (and mostly), Klein leaves the Young translation unchanged, but occasionally Klein (and Mohr) varies markedly. For example, Nur das traute hochheilige Paar, Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar is translated by Young: “Round yon Virgin mother and child, Holy infant so tender and mild” whereas Klein rewords it: “Round yon godly tender pair, Holy infant with curly hair”, a translation closer to the original.

The carol has been translated into about 140 languages.

Silent Night / Stille Nacht maintains a unique place in the annals of the history of war and humanity. In 1914, during World War 1, troops on both sides truced over a shared celebration of Christmas. This song was sung famously by soldiers on both sides during that truce.

Here is a performance of the song by The Vienna Boys Choir.

And here’s another by Pentatonix:

12 thoughts on “Silent Night

    1. I’ve always been really fascinated by the “Christmas Truce” story of World War I. It’s almost incomprehensible. Yet it reminds one that even in the darkest moments, light endures and can prevail.

      1. I know what you mean. There are more than a few “Christmas songs” that make me cringe when I hear them on the radio during November and December.

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