With their song “Silent Night”, Franz Xaver Gruber and Joseph Mohr have made a lasting impact on the world. On top of that, the song’s composer Franz Xaver Gruber and the Tirolean national singer Ludwig Rainer have direct descendants today who still live in SalzburgerLand. They recount the stories that have been passed down in their families from generation to generation. And with such legacies, they couldn’t help but step into their ancestors’ musical footsteps themselves.
From composer to rapper
He still likes to pick up his guitar from time to time when celebrating Christmas together with his parents and siblings. For as long as he can remember, “Silent Night” has been an indispensable part of any big family celebration, says Dame, the rapper from Salzburg. The 27-year-old musician is one of Franz Xaver Gruber’s descendants. His great-great-great-great-grandson to be exact. And the gift of music seems to have been passed down to him as well. Dame is among the most successful Austrian rappers and has made a name for himself with songs about video games and carved out his own niche in the German-language hip hop scene. Today, his YouTube channel has received over 170 million clicks and boasts half a million subscribers. And just like his famous ancestor, his talents were first discovered and promoted by his teacher. Nevertheless, he also trained to be a chef and confectioner, for a career that was more stable — also on the recommendation of his parents. However, his passion for music prevailed and he managed to convert his online success into real attendance figures. “Since then, I’ve been completely independent,” says Dame, who releases his music himself without the backing of a big record company.
Whether he ever wishes to travel back in time to the early 19th century? “That would definitely be something, to witness the difficult living conditions of the time,” he says. “I’m fascinated by how Franz Xaver Gruber managed to provide for his large family, how he fought to be able to make his music, and how the song still managed to express a sense of joy. The melody is perfectly suited to carry the message of the lyrics. That is still the secret of any great song today.” Perhaps this is the reason why there are so many cover versions of “Silent Night”. Whether he has ever been tempted to produce a hip hop version? If it had to be a Christmas song, “then I would prefer to do something on my own rather than ruining ‘Silent Night’,” he jokes. “The original is still and will always be the best version.”
From Tirolean national singer to music teacher
Gerald Wiener teaches German and music in Rauris. The Pinzgau region native sings in the church choir, leads the youth band and is a brass musician himself. He also seems to have been endowed with a passion for music since birth. To highlight the case in question, no other than the famous Tirolean national singer Ludwig Rainer “crowns” his family tree. Wiener himself is Rainer’s great-great-great-grandson. His grandfather had already told him stories about Ludwig Rainer when he was still a child. Only as an adult did he begin to ask questions about those singers from the Zillertal valley.
The deciding factor was a sketch of the Ur-Rainers in a coffee shop in Wiener’s hometown of Kaprun. He kept noticing it over and over again: “Somehow, the drawing wouldn’t let me go. It got me really curious and I started talking to my older relatives and began researching in Kaprun’s archives.” Finally, he found out that his ancestry from the Zillertal valley was indeed quite remarkable.
Talking about “Silent Night” is one thing. Singing the song is a different matter altogether. There is always a very personal, intimate moment when it is sung alone or, ideally, with the whole family on Christmas Eve. The song has its own magic. It’s a cultural artefact of which “I am very proud”, says Gerald Wiener. “Because it originates from Salzburg and because it touches millions of people every year and expresses the core of what Christmas is really all about points toward the things that are subtle, simple and beautiful.”