The origins of Silent Night


In the shopping centre, at a carols service, on your favourite Christmas CD or on the radio, as one of the most recorded songs in the world, chances are you will sing along to Silent Night during this festive season.

It has been around for centuries but do you know the origins of Silent Night?

Before the original manuscript was found, many people assumed that Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven had written the carol.

In fact, the song was written by an Austrian priest named Joseph Mohr in 1816 and the melody was composed by his school teacher friend Franz Xaver Gruber for their Christmas service in 1818.

Legend has it that the carol was meant to be sung by the children of the village at the midnight Christmas Eve service, as a surprise for their parents. During practise the organ broke and, pressing on, the children learnt the carol accompanied by a guitar.

Two years later Mohr set down the guitar arrangement on paper and the earliest manuscript is still displayed in the Carolino Augusteum Museum in Salzburg.

The original words of the song were in German (and it was called 'Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht') and translated to English went:

Silent night, holy night,
Bethlehem sleeps, yet what light,
Floats around the heavenly pair;
Songs of angels fills the air.
Strains of heavenly peace.

It is thought that two singing families, the Strasser family and Rainer family, (like the 'Von Trappes' in The Sound of Music) discovered the song and performed it as part of their concerts. During this time the tune changed to the one we know and sing today.

Silent Night was translated into English in 1863 by John Freeman Young. The carol was then sung during the Christmas Truce in the First World War in December 1914, as it was a song that soldiers on both sides knew!

Today it is arguably the most famous Christmas carol of all time. Now you know the origins of the song, but the question stands: do you know the one of whom it is about?

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!

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