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Friday, December 25, 2009

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht

"Silent Night" (German: Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht) is a popular Christmas carol. The original lyrics of the song Stille Nacht were written in German by the Austrian priest Father Josef Mohr and the melody was composed by the Austrian headmaster Franz Xaver Gruber. In 1859, John Freeman Young published the English translation that is most frequently sung today. The version of the melody that is generally sung today differs slightly (particularly in the final strain) from Gruber's original, which was a sprightly, dance-like tune in 6/8, as opposed to the slow, meditative lullaby version generally sung today. Today, the lyrics and melody are in the public domain.
The carol was first performed in the Nikolaus-Kirche (Church of St. Nicholas) in Oberndorf, Austria on December 24, 1818. Mohr had composed the words two years earlier, in 1816, but on Christmas Eve brought them to Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the church service.
In his written account regarding the composition of the carol, Gruber gives no mention of the specific inspiration for creating the song. According to the song's history provided by Austria's Silent Night Society, one supposition is that the church organ was no longer working so that Mohr and Gruber therefore created a song for accompaniment by guitar. Silent Night historian, Renate Ebeling-Winkler Berenguer says that the first mention of a broken organ was in a book published in the U.S.
Some believe that Mohr simply wanted a new Christmas carol that he could play on his guitar. The Silent Night Society says that there are "many romantic stories and legends" that add their own anecdotal details to the known facts.
The Nikolaus-Kirche was demolished in the early 1900s due to flood damage and because the town's center was moved up the river to a safer location, with a new church being built there close to the new bridge. A tiny chapel, called the "Stille-Nacht-Gedächtniskapelle" (Silent Night Memorial Chapel), was built in the place of the demolished church and a nearby house was converted into a museum, attracting tourists from all over the world, not only but primarily in December. The original manuscript has been lost. However a manuscript was discovered in 1995 in Mohr's handwriting and dated by researchers at ca. 1820. It shows that Mohr wrote the words in 1816 when he was assigned to a pilgrim church in Mariapfarr, Austria, and shows that the music was composed by Gruber in 1818. This is the earliest manuscript that exists and the only one in Mohr's handwriting. Gruber's composition was influenced by the musical tradition of his rural domicile. The melody of "Silent Night" bears resemblance to aspects of Austrian folk music and yodelling.
Another popular story claims that the carol, once performed, was promptly forgotten until an organ repairman found the manuscript in 1825 and revived it. However, Gruber published various arrangements of it throughout his lifetime and we now have the Mohr arrangement (ca. 1820) that is kept at the Museum Carolino Augusteum in Salzburg.
Silent Night Web list 225 versions of the song in 140 different languages.

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