"Silent Night" (German: "Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht") is a popular Christmas carol, composed in 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber to lyrics by Joseph Mohr in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria.[1] It was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2011.[2] The song was first recorded in 1905[3] and has remained a popular success, appearing in films and multiple successful recordings, as well as being quoted in other musical compositions. It is the world's most recorded Christmas song, with more than 137,000 known recordings.[4]

Stille Nacht
Silent Night
Christmas carol
Autograph (c. 1860) of the carol by Franz Gruber
Native nameStille Nacht, heilige Nacht
Full titleSilent Night, Holy Night
TextJoseph Mohr
MelodyFranz Xaver Gruber
Performed24 December 1818 (1818-12-24)
Published1833 (1833)

History edit

"Stille Nacht" was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at the Nikolauskirche, the parish church of 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,[1] 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.[5]

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.[1][6] 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.[5]

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.[7] 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 they 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.[1] 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.[5][7]

Mohr's autograph, 1820/1825

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 Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven or Schubert.[5] 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.[8]

Original melody

The first edition was published by Friese [de] in 1833 in a collection of Four Genuine Tyrolean Songs, with the following musical text:[9]

Franz Xaver Gruber, painted by Sebastian Stief (1846)

The contemporary version, as in the choral example below, is:


Translations edit

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.[10] 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 6
time and siciliana rhythm.[11][12] 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. For the most part, Klein preserves both Young's translation and the interpretive decisions that inform his word-choices. Yet Klein also attempts occasionally to restore Mohr's original phrasing, changing, for instance, Young's "Holy infant, so tender and mild" to Mohr's "Holy infant with curly hair" (Holder Knab' im lockigten Haar). However, she continues to interpret Mohr's traute heilige Paar as referring to Mary and the baby, whereas Mohr's use of the word traute can mean "espoused," thus suggesting perhaps that the "holy pair" represents Mary and Joseph watching (picking up Mohr's wacht) over the curly-haired infant/boy. [13]

The carol has been translated into about 300 languages.[14]

Lyrics edit

German lyrics[15] Young's English lyrics[16]

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!

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!

In the second stanza, some English versions read "shepherds quail"[17][18] rather than "shepherds quake."[19]

Musical settings edit

Silent-Night-Chapel in Oberndorf on the site where the song was first performed

The carol was arranged by various composers, such as Carl Reinecke, Gustav Schreck, Eusebius Mandyczewski, Malcolm Sargent, David Willcocks, Charles Mackerras, Philip Ledger, John Rutter, Stephen Cleobury, Jacob de Haan and Taylor Scott Davis..

Max Reger quotes the tune in the Christmas section of his organ pieces Sieben Stücke, Op. 145.

Alfred Schnittke composed an arrangement of "Stille Nacht" for violin and piano in 1978, as a holiday greeting for violinist Gidon Kremer. Due to its dissonant and nightmarish character, the miniature caused a scandal in Austria.[20][21]

In film edit

Several theatrical and television films depict how the song was ostensibly written. Most of them report the organ breaking down at the church in Oberndorf, which appeared in a fictional story published in the U.S. in the 1930s.[6]

On record charts edit

Several recordings of "Silent Night" have reached the record charts in various countries. These include:

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b c d Daley, Jason (17 December 2018). "It's the Bicentennial of 'Silent Night': The classic Christmas tune was first composed as a poem, and it was set to music for the first time in the winter of 1818". Smithsonian. Retrieved 12 December 2020.
  2. ^ "Österreichische UNESCO-Kommission – Nationalagentur für das Immaterielle Kulturerbe – Austrian Inventory". Retrieved 25 December 2014.
  3. ^ Berg, Marita (15 December 2013). "Silent Night". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 8 October 2020.
  4. ^ Malone, Chris (5 December 2017). "Christmas Classics From Mariah Carey & Wham! Among Most-Recorded Holiday Songs". Billboard. Retrieved 12 December 2023.
  5. ^ a b c d Egan, Bill (December 1999). "Silent Night, Holy Night". Soundscapes. 2. University of Groningen. ISSN 1567-7745. Archived from the original on 16 December 2017. Retrieved 22 December 2017.
  6. ^ a b "Christmas carols". BBC. 4 August 2009. Archived from the original on 22 May 2009. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
  7. ^ a b "Spreading of the Song Locally". Silent Night Association. Archived from the original on 17 December 2017. Retrieved 22 December 2017.
  8. ^ "Origin of the Song". Silent Night Association. Archived from the original on 15 December 2017. Retrieved 22 December 2017.
  9. ^ "Silent Night" revisited Archived 27 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine by Norbert Müllemann, G. Henle Verlag, 24 December 2012
  10. ^ Underwood, Byron Edward, "Bishop John Freeman Young, Translator of 'Stille Nacht'", The Hymn, v. 8, no. 4, October 1957, pp. 123–132.
  11. ^ Meredith Ellis Little (2001). Siciliana Archived 19 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Grove Music Online. ISBN 978-1561592630.
  12. ^ Gerlinde Haid (1994). Siciliano als Typus weihnachtlicher Volksmusik. 175 Jahre "Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!" (in German), pp. 135–146. Salzburg.
  13. ^ "Silent night! Holy night!", translated in 1998 by Bettina Klein, Silent Night Museum
  14. ^ Ronald M. Clancy, William E. Studwell. Best-Loved Christmas Carols. Christmas Classics Ltd, 2000. [page needed]
  15. ^ Evangelisches Gesangbuch, hymn no. 46 Archived 14 December 2017 at the Wayback Machine; Gotteslob, hymn no. 249 Archived 14 December 2017 at the Wayback Machine (was 145)
  16. ^ Young, John Freeman (1887). Great hymns of the church. Princeton Theological Seminary Library. New York : James Pott & Co.
  17. ^ Christmas Carols, Hymns, Etc. London: F. Pitman. 1881. p. 69.
  18. ^ Ruffer, Tim (2013). Ancient and Modern Words Edition. London: Canterbury Press. #84 Silent night! Holy night!. ISBN 978-1-84825-243-1.
  19. ^ Huntington, William R., ed. (1878). The Church Porch: A Service Book and Hymnal for Sunday Schools. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co. #42 Holy Night.
  20. ^ Guerrieri, Matthew (20 December 2014). "With 'Stille Nacht', Schnittke couched protest in tradition". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on 25 December 2017. Retrieved 24 December 2017.
  21. ^ Ross, Alex (28 September 1992). "Connoisseur of Chaos: Schnittke". The New Republic. Archived from the original on 29 June 2017. Retrieved 24 December 2017 – via The Rest Is Noise.
  22. ^ "Silent Night, Holy Night (TV Movie 1976)". IMDb. 27 December 2008. Archived from the original on 10 February 2017. Retrieved 17 February 2017.
  23. ^ "Silent Mouse (1988)". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  24. ^ "Buster and Chauncey's Silent Night". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on 23 November 2016. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  25. ^ "Silent Night | Movieguide | Movie Reviews for Christians". Movieguide. 21 October 2014. Archived from the original on 10 September 2017. Retrieved 17 February 2017.
  26. ^ First Silent Night, The Archived 25 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine, production details
  27. ^ "Stille-Nacht-Film feierte im Salzburger 'Das Kino' Premiere". Salzburger Nachrichten (in German). 15 December 2018. Retrieved 20 December 2020.
  28. ^ "Stille Nacht – eine Friedensbotschaft geht um die Welt". Österreich Werbung (in German). Retrieved 20 December 2020.
  29. ^ Oganesyan, Natalie (18 November 2020). "The Story of 'Silent Night', as Told and Sung by Kelly Clarkson, Josh Groban, Joss Stone and More, Set for CW Special". Variety. Retrieved 27 November 2020.
  30. ^ Silent Night – A Song for the World (2018) at IMDb  
  31. ^ "Percy Sledge – Silent Night". Dutchcharts.nl (in Dutch). Retrieved 22 August 2021. Piekpositie: 10
  32. ^ "Tom Tomson – Silent Night". Ultratop.be (in Dutch). Retrieved 22 August 2021. Piekpositie: 21
  33. ^ "Tom Tomson – Silent Night". Ultratop.be (in French). Retrieved 22 August 2021. Top: 10
  34. ^ "The Cats – Silent Night". Dutchcharts.nl (in Dutch). Retrieved 22 August 2021. Piekpositie: 21
  35. ^ "Sinéad O'Connor – Silent Night". Dutchcharts.nl (in Dutch). Retrieved 22 August 2021. Piekpositie: 71
  36. ^ "Enya – Oíche Chiúin (Silent Night)". australian-charts.com. Retrieved 14 October 2023.
  37. ^ "Josh Groban – Noche de Paz (Silent Night)". Norwegiancharts.com. Retrieved 22 August 2021. Peak: 5
  38. ^ "Chart History: Josh Groban – Adult Contemporary". Billboard. Retrieved 22 August 2021. Silent Night – Peaked at #19
  39. ^ "Glasvegas – Silent Night (Noapte de Vis)". Swedishcharts.com. Retrieved 22 August 2021. Peak: 42
  40. ^ "Chart History: Mariah Carey – Digital Song Sales". Billboard. Retrieved 22 August 2021. Silent Night – Peaked at #67
  41. ^ "Elvis Presley – Silent Night (Chanson)". Lescharts.com (in French). Retrieved 22 August 2021. Top: 120
  42. ^ "Nat "King" Cole – Silent Night (Chanson)". Lescharts.com (in French). Retrieved 22 August 2021. Top: 125
  43. ^ "Veckolista Heatseeker, vecka 52, 2017". Sverigetopplistan. Retrieved 27 December 2021.

External links edit