Silent Night: A History

One of my favorite Christmas carols is Silent Night. I love the way the lyrics describe the nativity scene, and the music itself is quite beautiful. This led me to wonder about the history of the song.

The very first performance of Silent Night was at midnight mass on Christmas Eve, 1818 in a small Austrian village. A young priest named Father Joseph Mohr wrote the lyrics two years before, and the melody and guitar accompaniment was composed by schoolmaster and organist Franz Xaver Gruber, who lived in a neighboring village. The first edition was published in 1833. (There are several different stories about why he wrote for guitar. Most of them say the organ wasn’t working – due to mice or some unknown cause – but some say they just liked the sound of the guitar.) 

Here is one of my favorite arrangements of Silent Night:

The carol has undergone some change since the original premier; the most frequently sung version uses half of the original verses, the melody was changed slightly, and it has been translated into 140 different languages. For a more in-depth background, and an explanation of historical context, click here.

Fun fact: this particular carol was sung on Christmas day by English and German troops in 1914 as part of the Christmas truce. Read more about the Christmas carol’s ceasefire effect here.

*The featured image for this post is the only surviving autograph of Silent Night.

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