200 years ago today, the Christmas carol Silent Night (Stille Nacht) was composed in a few hours and performed in this little church in Austria. The parish priest Joseph Mohr, himself a violinist and singer, wrote the lyrics some two years earlier. He wanted to use it for Midnight Mass, so he walked three kilometers from his home in Oberndorf bei Salzburg to visit his friend Franz Xaver Gruber. In only a few hours, Gruber, a school teacher who also served as the church’s choir master and organist, set his poem to music. The simple song was sung that evening in a simple arrangement for guitar and choir. Within a few years, arrangements of the carol spread to churches in the Salzburg Archdiocese by folk singers from the Ziller Valley who took the composition on tours around Europe—performing for audiences that included Franz I of Austria and Alexander I of Russia, and was reported to be a favorite of Frederick William IV of Prussia. LEARN more and Hear a lovely guitar version… (1818)
Over the years, because the original manuscript had been lost, Mohr’s name was forgotten and although Gruber was known to be the composer, many people assumed the melody was composed by a famous composer—and it was variously attributed to Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven. However, a manuscript was discovered in 1995 in Mohr’s handwriting proving that he authored the poem in 1818.
During his life, Mohr also created a fund to allow children from poor families to attend school and set up a system for the care of the elderly.
Recorded by a large number of singers from every music genre, the version sung by Bing Crosby became the third best-selling single of all-time. Hear the beautiful version from Sixpence None the Richer in their music video below…
MORE Good News on this Date:
- Verdi’s opera Aida premiered at the opening of the Suez Canal (1871)
- First broadcast of a music program on radio, from Massachusetts (1906)
- Albania became a republic (1924); Libya (1951) and Laos (1954) gained independence
- A rare Christmas Eve snowstorm fell on the southern U.S. (2004)
And, on this date every year, the Declaration of Christmas Peace is read aloud at noon in the Old Great Square in Finland’s oldest city, Turku, a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages. With fanfare and warning, the declaration calls for quiet and peaceful conduct during the Christmas period, including no animal hunting. It is broadcast throughout the country every year on December 24.
And, on this day in 1914, the Christmas truce of World War I began when German troops fighting in Belgium began decorating their trenches and singing Christmas carols.
The British troops on the other side soon joined in the singing and soon these soldiers greeted each other on the plains between them, putting the war on hold while exchanging gifts of whiskey and cigars. Watch a wonderful depiction below…