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Silent Night! - The song
Oberndorf in Salzburg

Emergence and dissemination 

"It was on the 24th of December in the year 1818, when the then auxiliary priest Mr Joseph Mohr at the newly established parish of St. Nicola in Oberndorf to the organist service. Franz Gruber (at that time also a school teacher in Arnsdorf) with the request to write a suitable melody for 2 solo voices including choir and for a guitar accompaniment. On the same evening, the latter delivered his simple composition to this music-loving clergyman, in accordance with his request, as it is enclosed in copy with the original, which was immediately rewarded with all the applause on Christmas Eve".

The 6-strophic message of peace was written by Father Mohr in 1816 in Mariapfarr in Lungau and the age-weary organ of St. Nikola's Church then played Fate in 1818 when it failed to do service. Mohr asked Gruber to compose a melody for his poem. At the Christmas mass, Mohr sang the upper part and accompanied with the guitar, and Gruber sang the bass.

"Silent Night! Holy Night!"
made its way via the Tyrolean Zillertal to the rest of Europe, America and the world. The organ builder "Mauracher" took the text with him to the Zillertal. The Strasser Singers from Laimach and the Rainer Singers, who performed the song on the occasion of a visit by Emperor Franz I and Tsar Alexander I to Fügen Castle, carried it out of the Zillertal. After extensive travelling in Europe, the Rainer Singers set off on a trip to America in 1839. There they performed "Silent Night!" in front of the burnt-out Trinity Church in New York for the American premiere.

At the turn of the century, people sang the now Most famous Christmas carol - spread by Catholic and Protestant missionaries - already on all continents.
Christmas without "Silent Night!" is no longer imaginable today. So far we know translations in more than 330 different languages and dialects.


Song poet: Joseph Mohr (1792 - 1848)

The song poet was born in Salzburg on 11 December 1792 as the son of a poor knitter and a deserted musketeer. He spent his childhood and youth in Salzburg. The financial support of the Salzburg cathedral vicar Johann Nepomuk Hiernle made it possible for him to attend university. After studying theology, he was ordained a secular priest in 1815 and assigned to various parishes in the country.

From 1817 to 1819 he worked as an assistant priest in Oberndorf and proved to be very close to the people during this time. Here he also met Franz Xaver Gruber. The further numerous stations of his life, which brought him to Kuchl, Golling, Vigaun, Anthering, Eugendorf, Hof, among others, led him to Hintersee in 1827, where he administered a parish independently for the first time.

In 1837 he moved to Wagrain, where he distinguished himself through his outstanding pastoral work. The construction of a school building was his initiative, and he also took care of the development of care for the poor. Mohr died on 4 December 1848 as a result of lung paralysis.

Song composer: Franz Xaver Gruber (1787 - 1863)

The song composer was born on 25 November 1787 into a family of linen weavers in Hochburg (Upper Austria). Like his father, he was the fifth of six children to learn the weaver's trade, which he practised until the age of 18.

Gruber, too, would hardly have attained higher education without the intervention of a patron. Andreas Peterlechner, a school teacher from Hochburg, recognised his musical talent and gave him music lessons. He also acquired the basics to become an elementary school teacher from him and passed the examination for this in 1806. In 1807 he took up the post of teacher in Arnsdorf. From 1816 to 1829 he was also organist in the parish of Oberndorf, where the lives of Mohr and Gruber crossed. In 1818 he composed the melody to "Silent Night! Holy Night!"

After 21 years of service, he moved to Berndorf in 1829, where he worked as a teacher and sacristan until 1835, when he moved to Hallein. Here he was able to devote himself entirely to his favourite subject, music, as choirmaster, chorale player and organist until his death - he died of old age - on 7 June 1863. Gruber's musical work was almost exclusively in the service of the church. Over ninety works are counted.

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