Silent Night: How Two Families Helped Spread the Song Around the World
Perhaps the soft melody and the hopeful lyrics of “Silent Night” would have disappeared into oblivion – were it not for two families from the Zillertal Valley who helped the song become the most famous Christmas carol of all times. Find out how they did it!
A priest and his poem, a teacher and his musical composition, a church in the village of Oberndorf, Christmas of 1818, and the desire for peace: these were the humble beginnings of the song of peace which later gained global popularity.
Its vast reach was brought about by two travelling choral groups, the Rainer family from Fügen/Tirol and the Strasser siblings from Hippach/Tirol. They travelled to cities around the world such as New York and St. Petersburg, enthralling audiences far and wide with traditional Austrian folk music.
The Origins of Silent Night
The story begins in 1824 with Carl Mauracher from Fügen. He spent a year building a new church organ in Oberndorf near Salzburg; it was there that he discovered the score to “Silent Night”. When he finished his assignment, he took it home with him to the Zillertal Valley in Tirol. The song became popular and was sung during Christmas festivities from then on.
The Strasser siblings were the first known group to perform the song. They originally came from Laimach near Hippach/Tirol, where Lorenz Strasser lived with his children. The “Strasser House” (Strasser-Häusl) has been well preserved until today.
Strasser was a travelling salesman. In the winter months, he and his family travelled to different German towns, selling goods at markets. Dressed in traditional attire, they sang Tirolean “national” songs to draw attention to their merchandise, first performing “Silent Night” in 1831 on a Christmas market in Leipzig.
After having become popular, they travelled around Germany as a singing group, inspiring others with their performance of the Christmas carol. From 1835 onwards, they no longer performed in public. The song, however, continued its journey around the world.
A Success Story: The “Ur-Rainer” Singers
Ludwig Rainer from Fügen was another local from Zillertal Valley in Tirol. In 1839, at only 18 years old, he travelled around the US with his quartet, “the Rainer Family”, performing traditional folk music.
Born in 1821, he was a member of the famous Rainer family. From 1824 to 1839, the first generation of family members (the “Ur-Rainer” or “Original Rainers”) successfully performed as travelling singers. They rose to fame when performing for Emperor Franz I of Austria and Tsar Alexander I of Russia in the castle of Fügen. Impressed with their talent, the tsar invited them to St. Petersburg.
Although they never made it to Russia, a referral enabled the Rainer siblings to perform at various other European royal courts, entertaining princes and kings. The family even performed at the crowning ceremony of Queen Victoria in 1938. Their last public performance was in 1839.
The Legacy Lives On with Ludwig Rainer
Ludwig Rainer wanted to continue the family legacy. To achieve this, he even organised a professional casting to assemble the new group.
From 1839 to 1843, they toured the US, travelling from Boston to New York, then on to St. Louis and Philadelphia. It is believed that they sang “Silent Night” in public for the very first time on Christmas Eve of 1839.
After the successful concert tour, Ludwig Rainer continued travelling Europe as a so-called Tirolean “national singer”. He performed with numerous groups in Paris, northern Germany, Turkey and St. Petersburg. After the tour, he returned to Tirol and built the “Seehof” hotel on Lake Achensee. He died in 1893.