“Silent Night” launched its dissemination throughout the world in the Zillertal valley in Tirol. Several very musical and highly talented families brought the song to Europe, America and Russia. Today, these families are known as the “Zillertal national singers”. An early print released in German, probably in Dresden in 1833, even introduced the song as “one of four authentic Tirolean” songs. Thus, it was assumed for a long time that the Christmas song was indeed Tirolean. On 30 December 1854, Franz Xaver Gruber finally clarified the origin and the authorship of the song. But how did the song even make its way into the Zillertal valley? And from there out into the world? The search begins in Fügen. Because this was the home of organ builder Carl Mauracher.
Carl Mauracher first came across “Silent Night” in Oberndorf
Carl Mauracher (1789–1844) was a third-generation organ builder from Fügen. His profession led him to travel frequently. Together with his father Andreas Mauracher, he built the parish church in Kötschach in Carinthia, which still exists today. Additional “Mauracher organs” include the Jubiläumsorgel in Bad Ischl, the organ of the Hofkirche in Innsbruck as well as the organ of the Roman Catholic Parish Church in Graz. The organ builder from the Zillertal valley was a demanded expert during his time and had made around 50 organs. He was also the one who received a contract in 1818 to repair the St. Nikola Church in Oberndorf, which was still playable, but in need of reconditioning. After provisionally repairing the organ in 1819, a completely new instrument was commissioned, which he built in the years 1824/25. On one of these trips to Oberndorf, Carl Mauracher got to know Franz Xaver Gruber as well as the song “Silent Night” and brought it back to the Zillertal valley.
The “Ur-Rainers” at Count Dönhoff’s castle
When the two most powerful leaders of their time — Emperor Franz I of Austria and Tsar Alexander I of Russia — visited Count Dönhoff’s castle (today Fügen Castle) in December 1822, the Count asked the very musical and talented Rainer Siblings to entertain his guests with a few local folk songs. Although Maria, Franz, Felix, Joseph and Antonia were clearly excited about the opportunity, they did not seem to feel entirely comfortable with performing before such mighty rulers. The adult siblings asked to hold their concert behind a curtain. The Count agreed and his guests are said to have had enjoyed themselves tremendously. Particularly Tsar Alexander I was so impressed that he invited the siblings to his court in St. Petersburg. And the siblings, later known as the “Ur-Rainers”, did indeed embark on a great journey: Maria, Franz, Felix and Joseph soon began their first trip abroad and beginning with their second journey in November 1825, their brother Anton joined them as well. Since the Tsar passed away in December 1825 already, they ended up changing their travel itinerary, going to Germany, Sweden and England, where they even performed at the English royal court. The Rainer Singers were a great sensation. Until 1838, they toured Europe as the first band of Tirolean national singers: Their final shared appearance was as an hommage to Kaiser Franz Ferdinand in the Hofburg Palace in Innsbruck.
On the traces of “Silent Night” in Fügen:
- Today, a gravestone at the cemetery of the parish church in Fügen reminds of Carl Mauracher. Not far from the former “Organ House”, at which the Mauracher family’s organ and carpenter workshop was located from 1740, a memorial plaque tells of the talented organ builder and his contribution to the dissemination of “Silent Night”.
- At the cemetery of the parish church in Fügen, you will also find a monument dedicated to the “Ur-Rainers” as well as the burial site of the Dönhoff family. A memorial plaque on the southern wall of Fügen Castle reminds of the visit by Tsar Alexander I of Russia and Kaiser Franz I of Austria.
- The approximately one-hour-long, winter-friendly Fügen Culture Walk leads to the most important monuments in the town and concludes with the Museum at Widumspfiste and Fügen Castle. An excellent starting point is the big Stollenberghof parking space, which can be accessed best from the town’s northern entry point. There, it will be practically impossible to miss Fügen’s first attraction: The Stollenberghof is a third-floor house that was built around 1580. In the renovated Renaissance Room, you will find the registry office as well as the south facade with the sundial and the original murals which is particularly impressive. The path continues along the main road for a while and forks to the left at the Plenggenbachl stream. After the bridge, you will notice the wooden Zinglhäusl. The landmarked building from the 15th century is one of the few of its kind that remains from what used to be 37 such buildings. The path continues along the stream for a short while and then forks to the left onto the Panorama Path. This trail is well-lit even at night and merges into the Pilgrimage Trail which leads to the Marienbergkirche church after a few steps. This small Baroque round church is exceptionally well-furnished. The church’s benefactor was the wealthy hammer workshop owner Michael Fieger. From here, which is the highest point in the tour, you descend via the rather steep Kapellenweg path. This old pilgrimage trail leads past seven chapels and ends at the parish church and the connected museum.
- In the Museum at Widumspfiste, an entire section is dedicated to the song “Silent Night”: Here you will find the world’s biggest known Silent Night record collection. You can even listen to many of the 1,000 records, which have now been digitalised and are equipped with QR codes which can be scanned with your smartphone. Among the collection, you will also find several interesting recordings and versions of the song in a number of different languages and dialects and by famous and less famous artists. The records were a gift from the collector Otto Praxmarer from Innsbruck. Additionally, visitors will learn exciting details about the Tirolean national singers from the Zillertal valley and the organ builder Carl Mauracher, about old handicrafts, local artists and Fügen’s mining industry. Furthermore, you will be able to see a traditional Zither instrument from the 19th century: With the help of the national singers, the Zither developed into the Alpine region’s quintessential instrument.