It had been a ‘Silent Night’ indeed when this beloved song was first composed. If not for a broken pipe organ, the world likely would have been without its most widely used Christmas carol. Perhaps it was that very silence that motivated the Reverend Joseph Mohr to pen those now-famous words in 1818. During the time, it was most likely sheer desperation rather than inspiration that motivated him.
As Father Mohr ready for Christmas Eve Mass in his church inside the small Austrian village of Oberndorf, someone found that the church’s ancient organ was from commission. With just a few days to travel as well as the nearest repairman a couple of days journey away, it appeared as though Mass would need to commence without musical accompaniment.
Feeling thwarted within his efforts to plan an exciting Christmas, Fr. Mohr set planning to manufacture another plan. It was in the midst of all his regular parish duties, like the blessing of any newborn infant. About this particular call, Fr. Mohr was suddenly struck from the words as to what has become referred to as “Silent Night,” or “Stille Nacht” in his native tongue. Quickly, so as not to lose the lines which were rapidly filling his brain, he finished his call and raced home. Here he penned four stanzas, the very first which reads in 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.
When he had set his words to parchment, he called upon his colleague, Franz Gruber, the musician who trained the parish choir. He was able to finagle from him the truth that, as well as his organ prowess, Gruber was also a guitar player. Gruber emphatically informed him, however, that his guitar skills were lower than proficient. Undeterred, Mohr presented the phrase to his new poem to Gruber. Rounding up a dusty, little-used guitar, both men composed the song that could provide music for Oberndorf’s Christmas Mass.
It was unlikely during the time that either Mohr or Gruber had any inkling of the impact they might have on history. In fact, the song disappeared into near obscurity to get a decade. It was then that Cool Silent Night Lyrics fell in to the hands in the Strasser group of Zillertal Valley.
The four young, musically-trained Strasser children spent many one hour drumming up business for his or her parents’ glove-making business by singing while watching shop. In a manner not unlike a contemporary talent agent discovering some secret talent inside the unlikeliest of places, “Silent Night” was exposed to the Strassers. Rearranged from two-part to four-part harmony, the Strasser children were catapulted to instant renown making use of their rendition. Valley residents renamed it “The Song From Heaven,” since the Strasser children sounded a great deal just like a choir of angels whenever they performed it. They sang so beautifully, in reality, the Strassers were invited to perform it before kings and queens.
The Nativity Story is remarkable in its utilization of music, including traditional tunes of the season like Veni Emmanuel, Carol from the Bells, and Silent Night–some choral and a few instrumental–introduced in a tasteful, tjuotf way, and along with an authentic score with by Mychael Danna that has a distinctly middle-eastern flavor. You may want to read Jonathan Broxton’s more detailed review of the film’s music.
It may have been a king who placed “Silent Night” indelibly on the lips of Christendom. King Frederick William IV of Prussia heard it sung some 22 years right after the Strasser children began performing “The Song from Heaven.” Afterward, he declared that it ought to “be given first spot in all future Christmas concerts” within the domain of his rule. Whether it really was or not isn’t certain. What is certain is the fact “Silent Night” breached King Frederick’s bounds to get loved all over the world.