A heavenly coincidence brings two people together in Oberndorf, near Salzburg: the teacher Franz Xaver Gruber is the organist in Saint Nicholas’ church, and Josef Mohr is the priest there from 1817 to 1819. Already when he arrives there, he has the words for the carol with him – he had written the lyrics as a poem. One year later, Gruber composes a moving melody to accompany it. On the evening of December 24, 1818, it gets its first performance. The world’s Christmas carol is born.
At that time, the Napoleonic Wars had just devastated Europe and redrawn national borders. Oberndorf, too, belonged to different nations during this period. Moreover, the boatmen of Oberndorf had already been going through hard times for years. Against this general mood of oppression, Mohr and Gruber wanted to give some hope. The world that came later knows that they succeeded.
The fact that this carol became known beyond Austria's borders so soon after it was finished, in an era without media and data carriers, owes every bit as much to its inner power as to travelling merchants who were also singers. They performed this carol at trade fairs in Germany and brought it to the court of the King of Prussia: in 1854, the Royal Court's Director of Music requested a copy of the carol, and its composer Gruber then wrote down the history of its creation, which describes the Christmas Eve of 1818 in Oberndorf in authentic detail.
It is true that the words of the carol have travelled on the wings of the music, but anyone who listens to it will recognise the joyous delight at the wonderful secret of birth.
The website of the 'Stille-Nacht' Society looks at the origin and development of this popular Christmas carol.
The district of Oberndorf is home to the 'Stille-Nacht' & Local Life Museum. The main focus of the museum is on the development and dissemination of the carol. Opening times: daily from 09.00 to 16.00. During Advent, from 09.00 to 18.00. Closed in February.
Keltenmuseum in Hallein
Authentic reason for composing the widely-known Christmas carol 'Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!' – this is the self-penned testimony of Franz Xaver Gruber, as kept in the 'Stille-Nacht' archive of the Keltenmuseum in Hallein; it contains the only authentic description of Christmas Eve 1818 in Oberndorf.