21 December 2011

Rites of Winter: Stille Nacht - The Humble History of a Carol

 By Jennifer Linforth

As a child my older brother would glare at me each time I sang “Silent Night” at church in German. I spoke the language and being the teen I was, I thought it hip to sing it in its original language and to annoy my brother.

Christmas creates many creative stories about how this timeless carol came into being, from mice eating the bellows of an organ forcing the need for the hymn to be accompanied by a guitar to Joseph Mohr having to write the words in haste due to a broken organ. The story has been sensationalized through the years in film and books, but the reality of this hymn is humble in its origins.

"Silent Night" was written by Joseph Mohr in 1816, a young priest assigned to a pilgrimage church in Mariapfarr, Austria. Christmas eve of 1818, Mohr visited the home of Franz Gruber. He showed his friend the poem he wrote and asked him to write a melody for it for the Midnight Mass. Later that night the first stanzas of “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!” were heard.

An organ does tie into the tale as master organ builder, Karl Mauracher, did work at Mohr’s church several times over the years. While doing his work Mohr’s church, he obtained a copy of the composition and took it home with him. Thus, the simple carol began its journey around the world in the hands of an organ builder.

Naturally the melody of so long ago changed over the years, but how? In December of 1832 two traveling families of folk singers, similar to the Trapp Family Singers, did a concert in Leipzig. Several musical notes were changed at this concert and the carol evolved into the melody we now know. According to historical documentation the song was performed before an audience Emperor Franz I and Tsar Alexander I. By 1839 “Stille Nacht" was performed for the first time in America at the Alexander Hamilton Monument outside Trinity Church in New York City.

Without doubt it will be performed this holiday season in churches across the globe.

Ein frohes Weihnachtsfest und alles Gute zum neuen Jahr!
Jennifer Linforth expands the classics by continuing The Phantom of the Operaand her books are available now. Look for future books based on the classics, in addition to her unique historical romances. "Ms. Linforth's prose is phenomenally beautiful and hauntingly breathtaking." ~ Coffee Time Romance