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The Story Of Silent Night (Stille Nacht)

The story goes that on 23 December 1818 Father Josef Mohr, the young priest of St. Nicholas' Church in Oberndorf, Austria was worried - in 24 hours he was supposed to lead a Christmas Eve service, but he had no music as the organ had rusted and wouldn't work.

That evening he attended the town Christmas play but instead of going straight home afterwards he climbed the small mountain overlooking the town to try and get some inspiration. It was nearly midnight before he reached his room and sat down to write a new song that could be played on a guitar - at least that wasn't broken.

"Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!" he wrote - "Silent night, holy night."

The night-time peacefulness of Oberndorf was fresh in his mind and he could imagine Bethlehem, bathed in moonlight:

All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin Mother and child!
Holy Infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

It wasn't long before the simple song was finished and he could think of going to sleep.

However, it is not really known why he wanted the new carol but on the 24th December 1818 he traveled to the home of musician schoolteacher Franz Grüber who lived in an apartment over the schoolhouse in nearby Arnsdorf, and asked if he could compose some music for the words before that evening so that it could be sung at Midnight Mass.

Grüber set about the task quickly and in a couple of hours had finished - just in time to rehearse with the choir before the service. Mohr sang tenor, Grüber sang bass and the service went off beautifully.

Later two travelling folk singer families from the Ziller Valley added the song to their repertoire. The Strasser family sang the song in a concert in Leipzig in December 1832 and the Rainer family sang the carol before an audience which included Emperor Franz 1 and Tsar Alexander 1. It became a favourite of King Frederick William IV of Prussia, who ordered it to be sung by his cathedral choir every Christmas season. by the middle of the eighteenth century it had become popular around the world. However, by this time no one could recall its composer.

In 1854 Franz Grüber sent a letter to the leading musical authorities with his claim to have written the tune. In 1848 Father Mohr had died of pneumonia, but Grüber still had the original manuscript to show and gradually he was recognised as the composer of the 'Silent Night' music.

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