Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, be plenteous in mercy is to have the real spirit of Christmas. Calvin Coolidge.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Silent Night

"Silent Night" (German: Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht) is a popular Christmas carol, composed 1818 in Austria. It was declared an intangible cultural heritage by the UNESCO in March 2011.


In 1859, John Freeman Young (second Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Florida) 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 time, as opposed to the slow, meditative lullaby version generally sung today. Today, the lyrics and melody are in the public domain.

The carol has been translated into 140 some-odd languages.It is sometimes sung without musical accompaniment.

The song was sung simultaneously in French, English and German by troops during the Christmas truce of 1914, as it was one carol that soldiers on both sides of the front line knew.

Popular recordings and interpretations

The song has been recorded by virtually every artist, past and present, who has made a Christmas album. There are versions by Enya (sung in Gaelic), Andrea Bocelli (sung in Italian), Stevie Nicks, Bing Crosby, Mahalia Jackson, an a capella version by American R&B group Boyz II Men, and an instrumental version by Mannheim Steamroller. Simon & Garfunkel recorded an ironic version of the song in which a depressing radio news report is overheard in the background. There have been choral recordings by the King's College Choir, the Cambridge Singers, the Robert Shaw Chorale, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Harry Simeone Chorale, the Vienna Boys' Choir, and many other classical choral groups.

Lyrics to "Silent Night":

Silent night holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night holy night
Shepherds quake at the sight,
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing alleluia;
Christ the Savior, is born
Christ the Savior, is born.

Silent night holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.


  1. History of the song

    The song was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at the St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf bei Salzburg. The melody was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, schoolmaster and organist in the nearby village of Arnsdorf. Before Christmas Eve, Mohr brought the words to Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the church service. Both performed the carol during the mass on the night of December 24. 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 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.

  2. The German words for the original six stanzas of the carol we know as "Silent Night" were written by Joseph Mohr in 1816, when he was a young priest assigned to a pilgrimage church in Mariapfarr, Austria. His grandfather lived nearby, and it is easy to imagine that he could have come up with the words while walking through the countryside on a visit to his elderly relative. The fact is, we have no idea if any particular event inspired Joseph Mohr to pen his poetic version of the birth of the Christ child. The world is fortunate, however, that he didn't leave it behind when he was transferred to Oberndorf the following year.

  3. The African-American singer-activist Paul Robeson recorded the song several times; his 1937 recording uses a British translation rather than the one more commonly found in the USA. In 1943, the Austrian exile Hertha Pauli wrote the book Silent Night. A Story of a Song, in which she explained to American children the origin of the song. The book was illustrated by Fritz Kredel. Glendale, California's radio broadcaster, Bob Holiday narrated this Christmas carol impersonating God as a tribute to the terrorist attacks. Westlife performed the song live with Sinéad O'Connor in 2001. In 2008, the song was featured on a compilation release of heavy metal supergroups, performed by members of Testament, Anthrax, Shadows Fall, and The Cult.

  4. Origin of Silent Night song
    "It was December 24th 1818, when Joseph Mohr of the newly established parish of St. Nicola in Oberndorf (he was the assisting priest then) came up to the organist Franz Xaver Gruber (who was also the teacher of Arnsdorf, a village close by) with a poem. Joseph Mohr asked, if Gruber could compose a song for two solo voices and choir accompanied by a guitar". With these words Gruber (composer) described the beginning of today's worldfamous Christmas song.

    Lyrics of Silent Night in form of a poem
    Most likely, the lyrics were already written in 1816 by Mohr, who worked in Mariapfarr then, in form of a poem. Why this poem became a Christmas song two years later is subject to speculation. The legend goes, that St. Nicola's organ was broken that Christmas eve in 1818. Out of that reason both creators composesd this carol for soprano, tenor and choir to be perfomed for the first time this special night in the church of St. Nicola in Oberndorf.