A famous poem, a simple melody and a wondrous spreading throughout the world: Though the ingredients seem so simple at first glance, together they are a real stroke of genius. The song “Silent Night!” – which was sung for the first time in Oberndorf near Salzburg at Christmas 1818 –has a two-hundred-year-long journey around the world behind it. Two billion people know and sing the song at Christmas. But its origins and its creators had been lost for a long time. In fact, many people today still don’t know where the song actually originates from.
The song originated in the Salzburger Land region
One of the creators of the song was the assistant priest from Salzburg, Joseph Mohr, who wrote the poem “Silent Night!” in 1816. Two years later, and of his own accord, he gave the song to the teacher and composer Franz Xaver Gruber – a native of the Upper Austria region – with the request that he should set it to music.
The spread of the song began in Tirol
“Silent Night!” – one of the most well-known Christmas songs in the world today – began as a Church hymn that was first sung at Christmas in front of the manger. It was only by chance that it fell into the hands of the Tirol-based organ builder Carl Mauracher, who in turn repaired the organ in Oberndorf. In his home region, the Zillertal valley, he passed on the song to highly musical families of farmers, who spread the song throughout Europe during their journeys as travelling sales people. And not only that: The Zillertal-valley native Ludwig Rainer – one of Tirol’s most famous national singers – even sang the song in America as far back as 1839. Franz Xaver Gruber, who died in 1863, was able to witness the beginnings of the song’s fame: In 1854, he also clarified the origin, and as a result, the authorship of the song.
“Silent Night!” today
Even up until the present day, many people still take a lot of interest in the song “Silent Night!”: musicians and composers, producers and singers, actors and artists, but also curators and exhibition managers, scientists and historians. The research done on the song is being pursued more intensively than ever before. And then there also the descendants of Franz Xaver Gruber and Joseph Mohr’s family of course: A number of these people have also taken an interest in the lives and works of their ancestors. The many facets to the song’s story means that there are just so many different possibilities and perspectives to experience and to understand the song from.