Editor’s Note: It’s been said that Christmas is one of the few holidays that has its own “soundtrack.” In celebration of the holiday season, The Times-Gazette presents part five of a special 12-part series entitled “The 12 Carols of Christmas,” appearing daily through Christmas Eve that relates the stories behind some of the best-loved sacred songs of the season.
“Silent Night” was a simple little tune which, according to Cecilia Rudin’s book “Stories of Hymns We Love,” was for years known as “The Tyrolese Song.”
It was born in the snow-capped peaks of the Austrian Alps in a region known as the Tyrol — “the land of the mountains” — which shielded the little town of Oberndorf, Austria.
Rudin wrote that, in 1818, a devout young priest named Joseph Mohr and his friend Franz Gruber, who was the village schoolmaster and church organist, often talked of the fact that “the perfect Christmas song had not yet been found.”
Sitting in his study on Christmas Eve 1818, Mohr thought about the hushed stillness of the night and the snow-clad beauty of the mountains around him and penned “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” in German.
The next day, Mohr took his manuscript to Gruber, who in setting it to music, told Mohr “it sings itself, your song!”
That evening, Mohr and Gruber sang their new Christmas song to the villagers gathered at the gray little mountain church, and it so touched them that after the service, they thanked the two friends with tears in their eyes.
Rudin said that only slowly did the song come into fame after laying forgotten on Gruber’s desk for over a year. In November 1819, after the church organ had been repaired, Gruber played the song to test it for the repairman.
The song so touched the man that he begged for a copy of the song to take to his little town across the mountains.
After his arrival, a singing quartette by the name of the Strasser Sisters learned the carol, making it their favorite song to perform.
One day, Rudin wrote, the quartette was invited to perform the hymn in the great cathedral of Leipzig, Germany.
Over time, the hymn was passed from one music lover to another until it was finally printed in 1842.
Twelve years later, the full choir of the Imperial Church in Berlin sang it before Emperor Frederick Wilhelm IV, who enjoyed it so much that he ordered “Silent Night” be given first place in all religious programs.
From that time on, Rudin said that the song was put into other languages and carried throughout the world, adding that “Silent Night” touched a heartfelt need and brought calm and peace to all who would hear it in the years to come.
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