The History of Silent Night | Andrew Gant


Silent Night was a collaboration between
two young men, both of them in their twenties, both from fairly humble
backgrounds. Father Josef Mohr was a young Catholic priest. He became the
parish priest in Oberndorf, in the mountainous region of Austria. Two years
before he went there, he had written the poem of Silent Night. Stille Nacht, in the
German original, of course. And the story of how this came to be set to music is
quite well known. He is said to have walked the three kilometres one
Christmas Eve, 200 years ago in 1818, to the parish church from Arnsdorf where he
was to Oberndorf to meet his friend, the village organist and school teacher
Franz Xaver Gruber. Gruber set the poem to music and the two of them
performed it with guitar, not with organ, at the Christmas Eve Mass that very
night. The song itself moved out from it’s
fairly humble beginnings, you know, reasonably quickly and there
are stories that it was taken up by local bands of folk singers, including
some family singers. The kind of tradition in Austria that of course is
immortalised in The Sound of Music with the von Trapp’s. There
were such family troupes and you know Gruber himself, who lived to quite a great age, said that the song was taken up by a couple of
families of this kind and was popularised by them and crucially,
taken to America, where it found a particularly favorable reception, which
of course it has enjoyed ever since. UNESCO declared Silent Night an
intangible cultural heritage in 2011 and that says something important about its
global reach, that an international organisation like that can rank it
alongside some of the world’s great cities and great cultural objects, as
something worthy of preservation.

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