There are some carols that will never die, no matter how many renditions of it we hear and although by the end of December we probably silently wish that the radio’s would stop playing them over and over again. Yet come December you know there are a few that you wait for. And when your ears picks out the first strains of the melody your heart gladdens and your mind goes back to your childhood, of happy days and all the wonderful stories we heard.
According to a lot of people ‘Silent Night’ is perhaps the most famous Christmas Carol of all time.
That story goes that in 1816 Pastor Joseph Mohr wrote the words of ‘Stille Nacht’ as a poem in Mariapfarr, Austria. Two years later, Pastor Mohr had moved to the Church of St Nicholas in Oberndorf, and according to legend the organ in this church had broken down on Christmas Eve! Music was desperately required for the Christmas Mass, so Mohr suddenly thought of his two year old poem, and gave it to his friend Franz Gruber. Gruber, a local schoolteacher and composer, was struck by the beauty of the words and immediately sat down and composed a melody for guitar, rather than church organ because it was broken. Remarkably, the melody was completed in time for the Midnight Service, and so was born on Christmas Eve, the carol ‘Silent Night’.
Unfortunately the real truth may be a little less romantic. Neither Mohr nor Gruber ever revealed the details of the song’s creation, and the broken organ story came to light much later in America. It may simply be that Mohr had specifically requested a guitar accompaniment instead of organ instrumentation for his poem.
Whatever the truth, the song took off, firstly in Austria where a singing family called the Strassers performed ‘Stille Nacht’ at a Leipzig concert in 1832, and then in America, where the Rainer family first performed the carol outside Trinity Church in New York City in 1839. Two decades later, John Freeman Young published an English translation of the German original. Then in December 1914, ‘Silent Night’, already a popular carol, took on a new sentimental edge during the first Christmas truce of World War One. It was, it seems, one of the few carols which both English and German soldiers knew, so as the guns fell silent for an all too brief period, the strains of ‘Silent Night’ filled the air instead.
There are many many beautiful renditions of this song done by the greatest artists of the world but my favourite is by Nana Mouskouri. This is one of my earliest Christmas memories as a child, listening to these songs on TV and Radio. Oh those happy days. I will always associate her voice with angels.
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Chan is a writer, blogger and yogi with a passion for history and romance. She is a management professional living in the beautiful paradise island of Sri Lanka with her husband, and two furry soft toys she refuses to part with, much to his chagrin. An avid reader and health food junkie, she also loves to keep up-to-date with fashion trends, travel and binge on everything chocolate at the slightest excuse.