“Silent Night” aka “Stille Nacht”, was first performed at the Nikolaus-kirche (Church of St. Nicholas) in Oberndor, Austria on December 24, 1818, and is perhaps the best known of all Christmas carols, having been translated into at least 44 languages. The melody was composed by Austrian headmaster Franz Gruber and the lyrics by Austrian priest Father Josef Mohr.
Stille Nacht was originally written as a “sprightly, dance-like tune” in 6/8 time, in marked contrast to the slower, “meditative lullaby” that is so familiar in the present day. The melody of “Stille Nacht” has been described as sharing aspects with Austrian folk music and yodelling of that time.
According to historical accounts, Mohr wrote the lyrics two years earlier, in 1816. During Christmas Eve of 1818, the church organ was apparently not working, so Mohr approached Gruber, asking him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the church service that evening, which eventually became the tune that we so often hear today.
During World War I, “Stille Nacht” was sung together by both English and German troops, in their own native languages, during the Christmas Truce of 1914, since it was one of the few carols familiar to soldiers on both sides. This most incredible event would be, without question, worthy of a separate diary in its own right, and must surely have been one of the most profound moments in the history of warfare. This astounding lull in the war provided the basis for a 2005 French film, “Joyeux Noël”, which was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film honor at the 78th Academy Awards.
I rarely find myself overcome with emotion upon hearing music, however, the version of this song by Mannheim Steamroller still produces a noticeable lump in my throat. I can’t imagine that I’m alone in this regard, however, I would welcome comments from anyone else who takes the time to listen to this most incredible rendition of “Stille Nacht.”
Without further ado, here is the Mannheim Steamroller version of “Silent Night”, accompanied by a beautiful light show — the northern lights (aurora borealis) over Norway: