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' !


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Devil's Sleigh Ride

On January 26th, 1667 it was proclaimed in Vienna that it was strictly forbidden to drive a sleigh after ten o’clock at night. This should keep the town safety and should assure that the inhabitants weren’t disturbed in their sleeping hours.

But still - there moved a sleigh with loud ringing and rattling through the streets between eleven and twelve o’clock every night. That sleigh made as much noise as a hundred sleighs would have made. And soon people knew – the coachman of that sleigh was the devil himself.

Winter in Vienna, Rudolf von Alt
People who had seen it reported that the devil in his bodily shape had a big head of a boar and that he spit out fire as if he had twelve storm lamps inside.

They also told that he had a woman at his side. On her head she wore a diadem which glowed red and was covered with golden lice and fleas. Instead of curly hair, ribbons and feather ornaments snakes and lizards crawled on the head of the devil’s companion. An ugly toad sat on her chest where a medallion is usually placed. And two big snakes gnawed at the upper part of her body.

Once a dutiful night-watchman dared to stop that sleigh and asked the devil to obey the law.

The satanic figure answered with a devilish laughter. Then the bogey blew at the poor man till the one dropped dead.

Copyright © 2011 Ingrid Prohaska
Special thanks to JRD Skinner and the Flash Pulp Crew for including this curiosity in their 'FlashCast47 - Spielbergian Whimsy' !


Monday, December 5, 2011

Interlude #5: Krampus

Tonight I share a piece of Austrian folklore with you.
Tomorrow is December 6th and therefore the day of Saint Nicolas.

Saint Nicolas has a companion, a satanic figure called Krampus. While Nicolas gives presents to the good children, Krampus is the one who punishes the naughty ones.

Nikolaus and Krampus in Austria
Newspaper-illustration from 1896

And just as it is in real life the evil doesn't come alone - Krampusse usually occur in packs.

Today I know that these figures are just young men dressed up as Krampus to roam through the streets with their rusty chains and their bells. But when I was I child - imagine that - I met the real ones and this was quite frightening.
But we couldn't keep away from that procession - I wanted to see Saint Nicolas. Very close to my mother I stood in the line to get one of the golden colored walnuts from Saint Nicolas.

Anyway if you like to see how a pack of Krampusse behaves nowadays then please enjoy this clip shot in the 7th district of Vienna ...

If you like to get more historical information then please switch over to "The Vienna Review" and enjoy the nicely written article there: "Krampus? Who's that?"


Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Flying Ship

a story known as a curiosity of Vienna

* * *
      Vienna, June 24th, 1709 - It was very big tumult yesterday morning approximately at nine o'clock. Everyone was alerted, the streets were full of people and the ones who were not in the streets stood at their windows. Everyone was asking what to do but noone knew an answer. Some people ran around crying the last day would be near, others felt a big earthquake to come, and some supposed that a large army of enemy besiegers stood before the gates of Vienna.
Finally more and more arms showed towards the sky and one saw an indescribable amount of bigger and smaller birds flying around a very big bird and it looked like as if the flock had a fight with this very big bird.
Then this odd flock moved further down and closer to earth. It turned out that the alerged big bird was an object in the form of a ship with expanded sails. The people could figure out a man on the ship dressed like a monk who announced his arrival with several gun shots.
The air ship moved in circles several times. It was now obviously that the air rider was looking for a suitable place to land.
Passarola (Big Bird) from: Wienerische Diarium, 1709
Unfortunately an unexpected wind arose and prevented the man from his undertaking. It came even worse. The wind led him to the spire of Saint Stephen’s Cathedral; the sails got tangled up at the tower top, so that the machine got stuck in it.
This incident caused a recent uproar among the common people, who all ran to St. Stephen’s square now. It is reported that twenty people were crushed to death in the huge crowd.
The man arrested in the air wasn’t helped by the staring people, he cried for helping hands. But the air ship was so unluckily entangeled that it wasn’t reachable.
After a couple of hours the man in the ship lost his patience. He took a hammer and some other tools he had with him and started to demolate the tip of the spire. He worked till the uppermost part of the tip fell to the ground. Thus he came back into flight and after some panning around he skilfully brought his airship to a halt at a place near the Imperial Palace.
Protected by a company of soldiers – otherwise he possibly would have been scrunched by the crowd of people – the pilot was brought to the tavern “The black Eagle”. There he rested for a couple of hours.
Then he told his story. On June 22nd at six o’clock in the morning he left Lisbon in his newly-invented air machine in order to bring some letters to the here resident Portuguese ambassador.
His travel was a big challenge and he had many fights with eagles, storks, paradise birds and many other unknown birds. He said if he hadn’t had his two double hooks and the four shotguns with him he would have lost his life without any doubt.
* * *
Copyright © 2011 Ingrid Prohaska

Special thanks to JRD Skinner and the Flash Pulp Crew for including this curiosity in their 'FlashCast45 - Just the Tip' !