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“Silent Night” (German: Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht) is a popular Christmas carol. The original lyrics of the song Stille Nacht were written in Austria by the priest Father Joseph Mohr and the melody was composed by the Austrian headmaster Franz Xaver Gruber. In 1859, John Freeman Young (second Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Florida) published the English translation that is most frequently sung today. The version of the melody that is generally sung today differs slightly (particularly in the final strain) from Gruber’s original, which was a sprightly, dance-like tune in 6/8, as opposed to the slow, meditative lullaby version generally sung today. Today, the lyrics and melody are in the public domain. The carol was first performed in the Nikolaus-Kirche (Church of St. Nicholas) in Oberndorf, Austria on December 24, 1818. Mohr had composed the words two years earlier, in 1816, but on Christmas Eve brought them to Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the church service.

Silent Night historian, Renate Ebeling-Winkler Berenguer says that the first mention of a broken organ was in a book published in the U.S. Some believe that Mohr simply wanted a new Christmas carol that he could play on his guitar. The Silent Night Society says that there are “many romantic stories and legends” that add their own anecdotal details to the known facts. The original manuscript has been lost. 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, 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. Gruber’s composition was influenced by the musical tradition of his rural domicile.

The carol has been translated into over 44 languages. It is sometimes sung without musical accompaniment. The song was sung simultaneously in French, English and German by troops during the Christmas truce of 1914, as it was one of the few carols that soldiers on both sides of the front line knew. The song has been recorded by over 300 artists, particularly successful in hit versions by Enya (sung in Irish), Andrea Bocelli (sung in Italian), Stevie Nicks, Bing Crosby, Mahalia Jackson, an acoustic version by American R ‘n’ B group Boyz II Men, and an instrumental version by Mannheim Steamroller. The Mannheim Steamroller backs narratives known as “The God Song” or “God’s Silent Night” which have been distributed to radio stations across the USA. Simon and Garfunkel recorded an ironic version of the song in which a depressing radio news report is overheard in the background (7 O’Clock News/Silent Night). There have also been choral recordings by the King’s College Choir and the Vienna Boys Choir.

Other recordings include Linda Ronstadt from A Merry Little Christmas (2000); Christina Aguilera from My Kind of Christmas (2000), Elvis Presley from Elvis’ Christmas Album (1957); and Tori Amos from Midwinter Graces (2009). In 1943, the Austrian exile Hertha Pauli wrote the book “Silent Night. A Story of a Song”, in which she explained to American children the origin of the song. The book was illustrated by Fritz Kredel and published by Alfred A. Knopf. A 1988 dramatised television documentary called Silent Mouse tells the story of the creation of the carol from a mouse’s point of view. It featured Lynn Redgrave as narrator, and Gregor Fisher in one of the leading roles. Was recorded by The Supremes but remained unreleased until 1999 when their Christmas Album, Merry Christmas”, was re-released with additional tracks. In 2004, Clay Aiken recorded the song for his album Merry Christmas With Love. Westlife performed the song live in 2001. In 2006, Brad Paisley recorded the song for Brad Paisley Christmas. In 2007, Damien Leith included a recording on a limited special Christmas edition of Where We Land. In 2009 a version by Susan Boyle reached #5 on the US Adult Contemporary billboard chart. Shelby Lynne recorded her version of Silent Night on her 2010 album Merry Christmas. In 2010 Annie Lennox included this track on her new album “A Christmas Cornucopia”

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.
2. Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!
3. 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.

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One Response to “Silent Night: The Story of the Christmas Carol (1953) Song History, Music and Lyrics”

  1. madtwatter88

    such a beautiful …
    such a beautiful story- of THE most beautiful of Christmas carols. Thanks for posting XmasFLIX.

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