The Broken Church Organ That Inspired The Christmas Carol "Silent Night" - By: Duane Shinn
This much-loved song was literally written on a 'Silent Night.' If a church pipe organ had not malfunctioned, our society probably would not have this beloved Christmas carol.
It may be that the silence of the broken pipe organ gave Reverend Joseph Mohr the inspiration to write the lyrics to "Silent Night" in 1818. In that moment, he likely was driven by anxiety rather than enthusiasm.
When Father Mohr made plans for Christmas Eve Mass at his church in Obernorf, a little Austrian town, somebody noticed that the church's old organ was not working. There were only a few days left before Christmas, and the nearest repairman was many miles away. It seemed as if Christmas Mass would have to be held without music.
With great sorrow that his Christmas plans had been destroyed, Fr. Mohr decided to take another course of action. He did this while still performing his usual parish duties, even during the baptism of a new baby. While making this specific visit, the lyrics to "Stille Nacht", or as we know it, "Silent Night," came suddenly to Fr. Mohr. He did not want to forget the words that had quickly popped into his head, so he ended his call and rushed home.
When he arrived home, he quickly committed his thoughts to paper. Translated into English, the resulting four stanzas read:
Silent Night, Holy night,
All is calm, all is bright,
Round yon' virgin, Mother and child,
Holy infant so tender and mild, Sleep in Heavenly peace.
Once he had put his words down on paper, Mohr got in touch with Franz Gruber. Herr Gruber, who trained the parish choir, was a colleague and a musician. Mohr managed to find out that Gruber could play the guitar, as well as the organ. Gruber told Mohr that he was not a proficient guitar player. However, Mohr was determined, and he gave Gruber the words to the new poem he wrote. Mohr and Gruber found a dusty old guitar and got to work writing the song that provided music for Oberndorf's Christmas Mass.
It was improbable that either Mohr or Gruber had any idea that they would leave such an indelible mark on our history. The song eventually faded into obscurity for a over a decade. After this, the Strasser family from Zillertal Valley somehow got possession of the song, "Silent Night".
The Strasser's four children were trained in music, and they used their talents to attract customers to their family's glove business. They spent many hours standing on the walk outside singing to draw in customers. Someone handed the Strassers the music for Silent Night, just like a talent agent might discover new talent in some obscure location. The song was rewritten from two-part harmony to four-part harmony and the Strasser children because famous immediately with their version. When the Strasser children sang "Silent Night," they sounded like a choir of angels. That is why the valley residents began calling it "The Song From Heaven". Their vocalizations were so lovely, the Strassers were asked to present their music to the kings and queens.
It might have been a king who turned "Silent Night" into a Christian mainstay. The Prussian king, Frederick William IV heard "Silent Night" some 22 years after the Strasser children began performing it as "The Song from Heaven." When he heard it, he said that it should be sung first in all Christmas concerts given for the rest of the time that he sat on the throne. We don't know if this actually came to pass. What we do know is that "Silent Night" was not just King Frederick's favorite, it soon became a beloved Christmas fixture worldwide.
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