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    Day 11: ‘Silent Night’ – The Unusual Story of an Unusual Song

    Exactly 200 years ago, the text of the world’s most famous carol was written. Its creation was accompanied by various adventures.

    For hundreds of millions of people around the world, the carol ‘Silent Night’ has become synonymous with a beautiful festive mood. According to opinion polls, it is the Germans’ most favourite carol. It can be heard under German and Polish Christmas trees as well as under African palm trees. It can be heard in the eternal ice of Alaska as well as in the tropical forests of South America. Its text is an international classic that has been translated into 300 languages and dialects around the world.

    For hundreds of millions of people around the world, the carol ‘Silent Night’ has become synonymous with a beautiful festive mood. According to opinion polls, it is the most favourite carol of Germans. It can be heard under German and Polish Christmas trees as well as under African palm trees. It can be heard in the eternal ice of Alaska as well as in the tropical forests of South America. Its text is an international classic that has been translated into 300 languages and dialects around the world.

    Broken organ

    The text of the carol was written in 1816 by the Austrian priest Joseph Mohr (1792-1848) during his ministry in the parish of Mariapfarr, in the Lungau region (Austria – ed.).

    This fact only became known to researchers in 1996, when Father Mohr’s own handwritten notes on the subject were discovered. When the priest was transferred to the parish of Oberndorf near Salzburg in 1817, he took the text with him.

    It was in Oberndorf that Father Mohr met the village teacher and organist Franz Xaver Gruber (1787-1863). As it soon turned out, coincidence came to their aid. Just before Christmas, the church organ blew out. Gruber later wrote that this was the reason for the carol ‘Silent Night’: “It was on 24 December 1818, when the then vicar Rev. Joseph Mohr handed a poem to the acting organist Franz Gruber in the newly established parish of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, with the request that he write a fitting melody for two voices and choir accompanied by guitar.”

    The premiere of the new carol took place during the Midnight Service on 24 December 1818, in the rather modest conditions of the poor parish. Father Mohr sang the tenor voice accompanied by guitar, and Gruber sang the bass part. During the premiere, all six stanzas were sung, not just the three that are sung today. The performance of the carol was a complete success, according to reports.

    “Choral of Salzburg”

    With the publication of the first translations of the carol text into foreign languages, “Silent Night” became known worldwide. Around 1873, it was already known in the USA under the name “Choral of Salzburg”. Even before 1891, Silent Night was also known in England, Sweden and British India. Christian missionaries spread the carol in East Africa, New Zealand and South America. In its German version, it was certainly known to Poles as early as the Partitions of Poland. One Polish version of the text by Piotr Maszyński was published around 1930.

    A special organisation, the Silent Night Society (“Stille-Nacht-Gesellschaft”) based in Oberndorf, is conducting research into the origin and perception of the carol. According to its members, the carol is an inalienable part of European culture. It is “a worldwide song of peace, whose influence extends beyond the boundaries of Christian churches”. In 2011, Silent Night was included in the Austrian UNESCO list of intangible cultural monuments.

    German lyrics
    
    	
    Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
    Alles schläft; einsam wacht
    Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
    Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
    Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
    Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
    
    Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
    Hirten erst kundgemacht
    Durch der Engel Halleluja,
    Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
    Christ, der Retter ist da!
    Christ, der Retter ist da!
    
    Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
    Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
    Lieb' aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
    Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund'.
    Christ, in deiner Geburt!
    Christ, in deiner Geburt!
    
    Young's English lyrics 
    
    
    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 Saviour is born!
    Christ the Saviour 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!
    
    Polish lyrics
    
    
    Cicha noc, święta noc,
    Pokój niesie ludziom wszem,
    A u żłóbka Matka Święta
    Czuwa sama uśmiechnięta
    Nad dzieciątka snem,
    Nad dzieciątka snem.
    
    Cicha noc, święta noc,
    Pastuszkowie od swych trzód
    Biegną wielce zadziwieni
    Za anielskim głosem pieni
    Gdzie się spełnił cud,
    Gdzie się spełnił cud.
    
    Cicha noc, święta noc,
    Narodzony Boży Syn
    Pan Wielkiego majestatu
    Niesie dziś całemu światu
    Odkupienie win,
    Odkupienie win
    

    Listen to the Polish version of the carol:

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