A favorite song “Silent Night”–written for guitar

Taylor_Afternoon_Winter_PanoramaIn 1818, the song Silent Night “Stille Nacht Heilige Nacht” was heard for the first time at Midnight Mass at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, (near Salzburg) Austria.

On that Christmas Eve, a song was written that would find its way into the hearts of people throughout the world. It is now translated into hundreds of languages and is sung by millions every December around the world.

The German words were actually written in the form of a poem by Joseph Mohr in 1816. He took the words with him when he moved the following year.

The story goes that on December 24, 1818, Joseph Mohr traveled to the home of musicani/schoolteacher Franz Xaver Gruber and asked him to add a melody and guitar accompaniment so that it could be sung at mass. Some tell of mice eating the bellows of the organ creating the need to play it on guitar. Six verses were written and the choir repeated the last two lines in four-part harmony.

Mohr sang the tenor part and provided accompaniment on guitar, while Gruber sang bass. As the two men, Gruber and Mohr, sang the song, backed by the choir, standing in front of the main altar in St. Nicholas Church and sang “Stille Nacht Heilige Nacht!” for the first time, little could they have known the impact their composition would have on the world.

The Silent Night Chapel
The Silent Night Chapel

Karl Mauracher, a master organ builder and repairman traveled to Oberndorf to work on the organ and it is told that while doing his work, he obtained a copy of the composition and took it home with him and from there it began its journey around the world as a “Tyrolean Folk Song.”

It is also said that “King Frederick William IV of Prussia used to have the Cathedral Choir sing it for him during the Christmas season each year.

The historical context of this shares that when Mohr wrote the words, the Napoleonic wars had just ended and that the 4th verse in particular took on special meaning when it expresses “a great longing for peace and comfort.”

It is a song that I love and enjoy performing on my guitar each year and relate this simple story to the audience for reflection before the performance.

More information on “Silent Night” can be found at the Stille-Nacht Oberndorf and Franz Xaver Gruber Museum Arnsdorf.

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