Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Silent Night" - the legend about the origin of a Christmas carol

Since Christmas is coming soon I thought I’ll take you out of Vienna this time and we travel to the countryside to Oberndorf in Salzburg about three hundred kilometres west of Vienna.
And I’ll tell you

a legend about the origin of a Christmas carol – the carol “Silent Night”

We write the year 1818. Oberndorf which is located by the Salzach River was a small and insignificant village that time and home of shipbuilders and skippers.

It was the day of Christmas Eve in a cold winter; the village and the hills around were deeply covered with snow.

The local teacher Franz Gruber closed the school house. Slowly he trudged through the snow to meet his friend and priest of the village Father Joseph Mohr at the church Saint Nicholas.
The two young men had to make the final preparations for the Christmas Mass.

After a warm welcome Father Mohr told the teacher Franz Gruber who also served as organist and as the church’s choir master which hymns he had selected as part of the celebration.
Then the organist climbed up the stairs to the gallery where the organ was placed.
But he made a nasty discovery – mice had chewed through the bellows of the old organ. The instrument kept silent not even a sound was possible.

A Christmas Mass without music would be a very poor one.

Card on the occasion of 100th anniversary
of the carol Silent Night in 1918:
Joseph Mohr, Franz Gruber
and Oberndorf
The both went to the rectory, sat down in the warm parlour and considered what to do.

Suddenly the priest remembered that he had written a poem two years ago; a poem about the Christmas tale. He stood and went to his desk. He rummaged through the drawers of his writing table. Finally he grabbed a piece of paper and showed it to his friend Franz. Excited but in a low voice the priest asked Franz to set this six stanzas long poem to music. They removed their doubts that the words were in German and not in usual liturgical latin.
And soon it was clear. It would be a song for two voices, tenor and bass, and the accompanying instrument would be the priest’s guitar.

Highly inspired by the Christmas poem and influenced by the local folk music Franz Gruber wrote down a simple melody in a sprightly, dance-like rhythm within the following few hours. Already in the late afternoon he was able to practice the carol with the children’s choir.

So it came that on Christmas Eve in 1818 the carol “Silent Night” was sung the first time at Midnight Mass. Father Joseph Mohr sang the tenor voice and played the guitar; Franz Gruber sang the bass line and directed the choir.

The two young men saved the Christmas celebration for the people of Oberndorf not knowing that this carol would be known all over the world one day.

Copyright © 2011 Ingrid Prohaska

Special thanks to JRD Skinner and the Flash Pulp Crew for including this legend in their 'FlashCast48 - Sherlock' !


No comments:

Post a Comment