“Silent Night” (in German: ‘Stille Nacht’) is one of the world’s most popular Christmas carols.
The song was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at a small parish church in Oberndorf, a village on the Salzach river in Austria.
A few days before Christmas that year, the local priest, Father Joseph Mohr, approached a friend and amateur musician, Franz Gruber, about composing a melody and guitar accompaniment for a simple song about the Nativity that he had written some years before. Mohr wanted an engaging new carol that could be sung in German (not Latin) at midnight mass on Christmas Eve – then only hours away – and hoped his friend could do the job.
Gruber composed the melody for “Stille Nacht” in just a few hours.
At midnight mass, the two friends, joined by the parish choir, sang “Silent Night” in a simple arrangement that touched the hearts of many who were present that night. It was well received by the congregation and gained considerable popularity, in time spreading throughout the German-speaking world, and eventually beyond.
The English translation most often sung today was published in 1859 by the Episcopalian bishop John Freeman Young.
“Silent Night” has been translated into hundreds of languages and dialects in every part of the world. Its lyrics and melody are today in the public domain.
In Austria “Stille Nacht” is considered a national treasure. Traditionally the song may not be played publicly before Christmas Eve, and commercial uses of the song are prohibited by law.
In 2011, “Stille Nacht” was declared by UNESCO to be an Intangible Cultural Heritage.
In the following sequence from the 2011 BYUtv production, Silent Night, we see Fr. Mohr hurriedly arriving at the church for Midnight Mass, where he teaches the congregation of Christ, then takes up his guitar to accompany the parish choir in singing a new Christmas carol — “Silent Night.”
When hope is gone and we are left in darkness; when you think all is lost, and there is no one to rescue us; there comes a light, brighter than the morning sun…
This light is the Son of God, and the true light of men.
The love of God manifest in his Only Begotten Son, our Savior and Redeemer.
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Father Joseph Mohr, in ‘Silent Night’
Finally, this short video from our friends at StilleNachtLand aims to show us what “Silent Night” may have sounded like, sung as it was in Austrian-accented German, to Gruber’s original arrangement for guitar and small choir, on that Christmas Eve in 1818. This is the real thing — enjoy!