It was 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 inspired the Reverend Joseph Mohr to pen those now-famous words in 1818. During the time, it was most likely pure desperation rather than inspiration that motivated him.
As Father Mohr ready for Christmas Eve Mass in the church inside the small Austrian village of Oberndorf, someone learned that the church’s ancient organ was out of commission. With just a few days to travel and also the nearest repairman a couple of days journey away, it appeared like Mass would have to commence without musical accompaniment.
Feeling thwarted in the efforts to plan a memorable Christmas, Fr. Mohr set planning to manufacture another plan. This was in the midst of all his regular parish duties, including the blessing of any newborn infant. On this particular call, Fr. Mohr was suddenly struck by the words to what is now known as “Silent Night,” or “Stille Nacht” in his native tongue. Quickly, in order never to lose the lines that have been rapidly filling his brain, he finished his call and raced home. Here he penned four stanzas, the first in 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.
As he had set his words to parchment, he called upon his colleague, Franz Gruber, the musician who trained the parish choir. He managed to finagle from him the reality that, along with his organ prowess, Gruber was a guitar player. Gruber emphatically informed him, however, that his guitar skills were under proficient. Undeterred, Mohr presented the text to his new poem to Gruber. Rounding up a dusty, little-used guitar, the two men composed the song that would 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. Actually, the song disappeared into near obscurity for a decade. It had been then that Free Silent Night Lyrics fell to the hands in the Strasser group of Zillertal Valley.
The 4 young, musically-trained Strasser children spent many an 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 with their rendition. Valley residents renamed it “The Song From Heaven,” because the Strasser children sounded a great deal just like a choir of angels once they performed it. They sang so beautifully, in fact, the Strassers were invited to execute it before kings and queens.
The Nativity Story is remarkable in its utilization of music, which include traditional tunes in the season such as Veni Emmanuel, Carol of the Bells, and Silent Night–some choral and some instrumental–introduced in a tasteful, tjuotf way, and combined with an authentic score with by Mychael Danna that has a distinctly middle-eastern flavor. You might like to read Jonathan Broxton’s more in depth 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 after the Strasser children began performing “The Song from Heaven.” Afterward, he declared that it ought to “get first place in all future Christmas concerts” inside the domain of his rule. Whether or not this really was or otherwise isn’t certain. What is certain is the fact that “Silent Night” breached King Frederick’s bounds to be loved all over the world.