FAQ for Christmas

The Hisotry of Silent Night - Stille Nacht

The Real Story Of Silent Night
The year 2008 marks the 190th Anniversary of Silent Night, Copyright ęSpirit Communication

Many interesting fables abound for the origins of "Silent Night." Most of them are fanciful and untrue.

The Christmas Eve of 1818 was at hand. Pastor Joseph Mohr of St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf decided that he needed a carol for the Christmas Eve service. The little poem he had written two years earlier while serving at the pilgrim church in Mariapfarr just might work. Perhaps this poem could be set to music. He hurried off to see his friend, Franz Xaver Gruber, who was a schoolteacher and also served as the church's organist and choir master. Maybe he could help. He did.

In a few short hours Franz came up with the hauntingly beautiful melody that is so loved and revered to this day. At the request of Joseph, who had a special love for his guitar, Franz composed the music for guitar accompaniment. Just short hours later, Franz stood with his friend the pastor, Joseph, in front of the altar in St. Nicholas church and introduced "Stille Nacht" to the congregation.

The Music

The original melody for Silent Night differs slightly from what we learned in school. The 1818 manuscript is missing so the earliest version we have of the melody is from a manuscript written by Joseph Mohr around 1820.

The Controversy
by Bill Egan, Christmas Historian

"Silent Night" has been translated into nearly 300 languages and dialects. It became a carol 180 years ago when Rev. Joseph Mohr took a poem he had written in 1816 to his friend, Franz Xaver Gruber, and asked him to add a melody with accompaniment for guitar. That night, December 24, 1818, a song was born which has become an anchor for Christmas celebrations everywhere. Its lullaby-like melody and simple message of heavenly peace can be heard from small town street corners in mid-America to magnificent cathedrals in Europe and from outdoor candlelight concerts in Australia to palm-thatched huts in northern Peru.

Unfortunately the origins of the song have been embroiled in controversy for more than a century and the controversy continues today. Erroneous tales have been written by sentimental romantics to elaborate the circumstances surrounding the origin of "Silent Night." Many of these anecdotal stories (some found on the Internet) claim that Mohr wrote the words on Dec. 24, 1818 in order to provide a guitar-accompanied carol for Midnight Mass. They claim the church organ did not work because mice ate the bellows. Some have constructed elaborate scenarios for Fr. Mohr's inspiration; most of these taking place in 1818, in the outlying areas of Oberndorf. Others have attributed the melody to Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven rather than its real composer, Franz Gruber.

The most recent controversy involves claims by German-born author Hanno Schilf, who operates a Silent Night Museum in a building once thought to be the birthplace of Joseph Mohr. When the Governor of Salzburg, Franz Schausberger, announced that recent research has shown that 9 Steingasse is not the birthplace of the poet-priest, Schilf immediately stepped up his advertising for his museum with the claim, "The museum is at the historical birthplace from (sic) Joseph Mohr, creator of the Carol (sic) 'Silent night! Holy night!" In addition he claims that Joseph Mohr, not Franz Gruber, wrote the melody for "Silent Night." This, despite the fact that Schilf's museum displays a replica of a Mohr arrangement of "Stille Nacht" where one can see "Melodie von Franz Xav. Gruber" in Mohr's handwriting.

Schilf's book, which claims to be the story of how the carol originated reads like a Hollywood film script. It tells of a girl rescued from white-slavery, the burning of the city of Salzburg, and Franz Gruber at the zither while Joseph Mohr played guitar for the first performance of "Silent Night." When I asked Schilf where he found the source for the zither information, he said he added that for the American readers. He claimed that the audience in the United States would not be satisfied with a simple guitar being used for the premier of such a famous carol.

This is how history mixes with fantasy. Future historians may look at this fanciful tale and think it real. For six years, Schilf has claimed that his book will be made into a film. Hopefully, if that happens, people will regard it as the product of a vivid imagination rather than historic fact.

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