Thursday, December 20, 2007

Silent Night

Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht!
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hoch heilige Paar.
Holder Knab' im lockigen Haar,
|: Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh! :|

2. Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht!
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb' aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund'.
|: Jesus in deiner Geburt! :|

3. Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht!
Die der Welt Heil gebracht,
Aus des Himmels goldenen Höhn,
Uns der Gnaden Fülle läßt sehn,
|: Jesum in Menschengestalt! :|

4. Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht!
Wo sich heut alle Macht
Väterlicher Liebe ergoß,
Und als Bruder huldvoll umschloß
|: Jesus die Völker der Welt! :|

5. Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht!
Lange schon uns bedacht,
Als der Herr vom Grimme befreit
In der Väter urgrauer Zeit
|: Aller Welt Schonung verhieß! :|

6. Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht!
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Alleluja,
Tönt es laut bei Ferne und Nah:
|: "Jesus der Retter ist da!"

Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht! was written by a German priest named Joseph Mohr on Christmas Eve 1818. Joseph was the son of Franz Mohr, an itinerant mercenary, and as he was away most of the time, Joseph was brought up by foster parents. The head of the household was a Roman Catholic priest named Hiernle. Joseph himself was ordained in 1815 after serving in several parishes came to minister in the village church of St Nicholas, Oberdorf in Upper Austria, near Salzburg.

Today books, films and Internet sites are filled with fanciful tales purporting to tell the history of "Silent Night." Some tell of mice eating the bellows of the organ creating the necessity for a hymn to be accompanied by a guitar. Others claim that Joseph Mohr was forced to write the words to a new carol in haste since the organ would not play. A recent film, created for Austrian television places Oberndorf in the Alps and includes evil railroad barons and a double-dealing priest, while a recent book by a German author places a zither in the hands of Franz Gruber and connects Joseph Mohr with a tragic fire engulfing the city of Salzburg. You can read claims that "Silent Night" was sung on Christmas Eve in 1818 and then forgotten by its creators

One story of how the carol was written goes like this. As the snow fell outside the newly built small church in Oberdorf on Christmas Eve, preparation for midnight mass was interrupted by the announcement from local schoolmaster and organist Franz Gruber that the organ had broken down irreparably. Mohr was so upset that he left the preparations and wrapped up well to visit some parishioners. As he trudged through the thick snow he came to the home of a poor laborer whose wife had just delivered a new baby. As he walked wearily back to the church, the snow silently fell, snow on snow, giving brightness to the calm, dark night. It reminded him of the Nativity scene and the words “Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht! Alles schläft; einsam wacht“ came to his mind. Arriving back at the church with the words still ringing in his mind he soon penned four simple stanzas describing the wonder and majesty of the first Christmas.

As the organ had broken down, Mohr insisted that the schoolmaster tune up his old guitar. Together they hummed the simple tune that we know today. The girls of the village took up the tune and the whole carol was sung for the first time that very night.

When Christmas was over the organ was repaired by Karl Mauracher and Gruber played the new carol for him. Mauracher loved it straight away, but it was ten years before it became popular.

However, a manuscript was discovered in 1995 in Mohr's handwriting and dated by researchers at ca. 1820. It shows that Mohr wrote the words in 1816 when he was assigned to a pilgrim church in Mariapfarr, Austria,

The four Strasser children, Caroline, Joseph, Andreas and Analie had become popular Tyrolean singers (like the von Trapp’s) and they introduce the song into their repertoire as “The Song of Heaven”. At Christmas 1832 they sang it for the King and Queen of Saxony and since then it has been ever popular.

The first English version was by Bishop John F Young (1826-85) but we sing the translation by Stopford Augustus Brooke, an Irishman who left the Church of England to preach in Bedford Chapel (Bunyan’s) and translated the carol as “Still the night, holy the night”

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,
Heav'nly hosts sing Alleluia;
Christ the Savior is born;
Christ the Savior 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.


Still the night, Holy the night,
Sleeps the world, hid from sight,
Mary and Joseph in stable bare,
Watch o'er the child, beloved and fair,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Still the night, Holy the night,
Shepherds first saw the light,
Heard resounding clear and strong,
Far and near, the Angels song,
Christ the Redeemer is here,
Christ the Redeemer is here.

Still the night, Holy the night,
Son of God, love's pure light,
Love is smiling from thy face,
Strikes for us now the hour of grace,
Saviour since thou art born,
Saviour since thou art born.

1 comment:

justme said...

I am thoroughly enjoying your histories on all these Christmas Carols. 'Silent Night' has always been one of my favorites. Over the years I've heard many of the stories you mentioned on how Mohr came to write it. I wonder which one, if any, is correct.