What Is the History of the Song "Silent Night"?


Quick Answer

The song "Silent Night" originated as a poem that was written by Austrian priest Father Joseph Mohr in 1816 while he was serving as assistant pastor at a church in Mariapfarr, Austria. Two years later, when Mohr was serving as assistant pastor in Arnsdorf, Austria, he decided that his poem would make a good song to be sung on Christmas Eve.

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Full Answer

On Dec. 24th, 1818, Mohr approached the church's organist, Franz Gruber, to write a melody for the song's two solo voice parts, the choir and a guitar. Mohr chose to have Gruber compose the guitar part because the organ was not working at St. Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, Austria, where Mohr was then serving. After only a few hours, Gruber composed the melody, and the two men then gave the first performance of "Silent Night" the same evening, with Mohr singing the tenor part and playing guitar while Gruber sang the bass part.

A few weeks later, well-known organ builder Karl Mauracher arrived in Oberndorf to fix the church's organ and happened to hear Mohr play the song. This led Mauracher to take the song back to his own village of Kapfing, where it was heard and picked up by two famous singing families. One of these families, the Strasser sisters, then spread the song throughout northern Europe. In 1834, they performed it for Prussian King Frederick William IV, who declared that the song should be sung every year on Christmas Eve. The other family, the Rainers, brought "Silent Night" to the United States in 1836, but the song wasn't translated into English until 1863.

The original German name of "Silent Night" is "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht."

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