2018 marks the bicentenary of the composition of a phenomenon: Silent Night.
Written by Father Joseph Mohr and set to music by his friend, Franz Xaver Gruber, at Christmas 1818, »Silent Night« is a simple carol in lilting 6/8 time, a deeply felt, intimate poem, with music to match. It is essentially a lullaby for Jesus, and you can literally hear the Alps, the snow-covered mountains, the family assembled with the animals, the peace and quiet of the night.
It is the carol that allegedly brokered the 1914 Christmas Truce, and it was recognised by UNESCO as part of Austria’s intangible cultural heritage. And Silent Night has a birthday coming up. Not many carols can claim to have a birthday.
Silent Night was written in Oberndorf, Austria, a small border town fighting for economic survival, still reeling from the great wars between 1792 and 1815, by the two people who felt responsible for the town’s inhabitants: the village priest and the school teacher and organist. What may have been intended as a prayer for peace by its authors is today understood as a peace hymn around the world. Everybody sings it, and still deeply affects us all.
The song is firmly entrenched in popular culture: Chewbacca sings it, it has a plane and museums named after it. Silent Night has been translated in more than 330 languages – among them Apache and Arrernte, a language spoken in Australia’s Northern Territory, Cheyenne, Cornish, Ferring – a dialect of Frisian, Kurdish, and Maori. Numerous articles, books, documentaries and feature films attest to the carol’s popularity – and add to its mystique.
SILENT NIGHT – A PHENOMENON EXPLAINED traces the 200 years of the carol’s fascinating history from its origin, unlocking the mystery behind its phenomenal success: complete with sheet music, indices, and a bibliography.