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. Even when he arrives there, he has the words for the carol with him – he had written it as a poem. A 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 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 traveling 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’s true that the words of the carol have traveled on the wings of the music, but anyone who listens to it will recognize the joyous delight at the wonderful secret of birth.
Visit Oberndorf, home of the ‘Stille-Nacht’ MuseumStille Nacht Museum