The "Silent Night" phenomenon
What is probably the world’s most famous song of peace was composed in a time of war, natural disasters, hunger, suffering and poverty.
A song that was not supposed to become famous, and yet has been touching people for 200 years, and whose story of origin reads like a suspense novel. Read all about the “Silent Night” phenomenon.
- Silent Night score © SalzburgerLand Tourismus GmbH / Kathrin Gollackner
On the search for peace
“Silent Night” came into being in difficult times: French troops, occupation and violent crimes were part of everyday life in Austria at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Austrian people were completely at the mercy of the prevailing economic and political conditions, and their longing for peace, hope and brotherhood was great. Perhaps this dramatic situation was the very reason the people were so receptive to this new song.
Did you know that...?
…the carol was first played in New York in 1839 when the Rainer Family Singers from Tirol performed it during a 4-year tour of America? Afterwards the carol reached New Orleans, St. Louis, Pittsburg und Philadelphia.
…missionaries took the carol to Africa and Asia with them?
The history and stories surrounding “Silent Night”
1792 – 1815: The people in Austria and Bavaria endure more than twenty years of violence and hardship during the Napoleonic Wars.
1815: Following Napoleon’s defeat in 1814, the Congress of Vienna redraws the map of Europe, which affects also the provinces of SalzburgerLand, Tirol and Upper Austria.
1815: Napoleon returns to power from his exile on the island of Elba for one hundred days; the Battle of Waterloo, in Belgium, marks his final defeat.
1816: After years of being ruled alternately by Austria and Bavaria, Salzburg is returned to imperial Austria once and for all.
1816: In Mariapfarr in SalzburgerLand, the young assistant priest Joseph Mohr writes a poem with six verses. In the original German it bears the title “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!”.
24 December 1818: Joseph Mohr is transferred to Oberndorf and becomes friends with the Arnsdorf teacher Franz Xaver Gruber. Mohr asks Gruber to set his poem to music. Following the Napoleonic Wars, Oberndorf is plagued by hunger and despair.
Franz Xaver Gruber composes his melody in D major for two voices and guitar accompaniment; later he considers it to be an occasional composition and attaches little importance to it. That very evening, Mohr and Gruber sing the song for the first time following the Christmas Eve mass.
- The Silent Night Chapel in Obendorf © TSG Tourismus Salzburg GmbH
“"Silent Night” touches people all around the world. The song serves as a symbol of peace and unity. In 2011 it was included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.”