Silent Night

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Silent Night
Christmas carol
Silent-Night-Chapel in Oberndorf, where the song was first performed
Native name Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht
Full Silent Night, Holy Night
Text Joseph Mohr
Language German
Melody Franz Xaver Gruber
Performed 24 December 1818 (1818-12-24)
Published 1833 (1833)

"Silent Night" (German: Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht) is a popular Christmas carol, composed in 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber to lyrics by Joseph Mohr in the small town of Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria. It was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2011.[1] The song has been recorded by a large number of singers from every music genre. The version sung by Bing Crosby is the third best-selling single of all-time.


The song was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, a village in the Austrian Empire on the Salzach river in present-day Austria. A young priest, Father Joseph Mohr, had come to Oberndorf the year before. He had written the lyrics of the song "Stille Nacht" in 1816 at Mariapfarr, the hometown of his father in the Salzburg Lungau region, where Joseph had worked as a co-adjutor.[2]

The melody was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, schoolmaster and organist in the nearby village of Arnsdorf. Before Christmas Eve, Mohr brought the words to Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the Christmas Eve mass.[3] It is unknown what inspired Mohr to write the lyrics, or what prompted him to create a new carol.[2]

According to Gruber, Karl Mauracher, an organ builder who serviced the instrument at the Obendorf church, was enamoured with the song, and took the composition home with him to the Zillertal.[4] From there, two travelling families of folk singers, the Strassers and the Rainers, included the tune in their shows. The Rainers were already singing it around Christmas 1819, and once performed it for an audience that included Franz I of Austria and Alexander I of Russia, as well as making the first performance of the song in the U.S., in New York City in 1839. By the 1840s the song was well known in Lower Saxony and was reported to be a favourite of Frederick William IV of Prussia. During this period, the melody changed slightly to become the version that is commonly played today.[2][4]

Over the years, because the original manuscript had been lost, Mohr's name was forgotten and although Gruber was known to be the composer, many people assumed the melody was composed by a famous composer, and it was variously attributed to Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven.[2] However, a manuscript was discovered in 1995 in Mohr's handwriting and dated by researchers as c. 1820. It states that Mohr wrote the words in 1816 when he was assigned to a pilgrim church in Mariapfarr, Austria, and shows that the music was composed by Gruber in 1818. This is the earliest manuscript that exists and the only one in Mohr's handwriting.[5]

The first edition was published by Friese (de) in 1833 in a collection of Four Genuine Tyrolean Songs, with the following musical text:[6]

Franz Xaver Gruber, painted by Sebastian Stief (1846)

\relative c'' {
  \key c \major \set Staff.midiInstrument = #"acoustic guitar (nylon)"
  \time 6/8 \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t \tempo 4 = 60 \autoBeamOff
  g8.^"First edition" [a16] g8 e4. | g8. [a16] g8 e4. | d'4 d16. [b32] b4. | c4 c16. [g32] g4. | a4 a8 c8. b16 a8 | g8. a16 g8 e4. |
  a4 a8 c8. b16 a8 | g8. a16 g8 e4. | d'4 d8 f8.-> d16 b8 | c4. (e4) r8 | c8. [g16] e8 g8. f16 d8 | c4.~ c4 r8 \bar "|."

The contemporary version, as in the choral example below, is:

\relative c'' {
  \key c \major \set Staff.midiInstrument = #"acoustic guitar (nylon)"
  \time 6/8 \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t \tempo 4 = 60 \autoBeamOff
  g8.^"Contemporary" [(a16)] g8 e4. | g8. [a16] g8 e4. | d'4 d8 b4. | c4 c8 g4. | a4 a8 c8. [b16] a8 | g8. [a16] g8 e4. |
  a4 a8 c8. [b16] a8 | g8. [a16] g8 e4. | d'4 d8 f8.-> [d16] b8 | c4. (e4) r8 | c8. [(g16)] e8 g8. [f16] d8 | c4.~ c4 r8 \bar "|."


In 1859, the Episcopal priest John Freeman Young, then serving at Trinity Church, New York City, wrote and published the English translation that is most frequently sung today, translated from three of Mohr's original six verses.[7] The version of the melody that is generally used today is a slow, meditative lullaby or pastorale, differing slightly (particularly in the final strain) from Gruber's original, which was a "moderato" tune in 6
time and siciliana rhythm.[8][9] Today, the lyrics and melody are in the public domain.

The carol has been translated into about 140 languages.[10][11]


Autograph (c. 1860) of the carol by Franz Gruber
German lyrics[12] Young's English lyrics[13]

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb' aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund'.
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Christ, in deiner Geburt!

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,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love's pure light;
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

Musical settings[edit]

Max Reger quotes the tune in the Christmas section of his organ pieces Sieben Stücke, Op. 145.

Alfred Schnittke composed an arrangement of Stille Nacht for violin and piano in 1978, as a holiday greeting for violinist Gidon Kremer. Due its dissonant and nightmarish character, the miniature caused a scandal in Austria.[14][15]

In film[edit]

Several theatrical and television films depict how the song was ostensibly written. Most of them however are based on a spurious legend about the organ breaking down at the church in Oberndorf, which appeared in a fictional story published in the U.S. in the 1930s.[3]


  1. ^ "Österreichische UNESCO-Kommission – Nationalagentur für das Immaterielle Kulturerbe – Austrian Inventory". Retrieved 25 December 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d Egan, Bill (December 1999). "Silent Night, Holy Night". Soundscapes. University of Groningen. 2. ISSN 1567-7745. Retrieved 22 December 2017. 
  3. ^ a b "Christmas carols". BBC. 4 August 2009. Retrieved 6 December 2011. 
  4. ^ a b "Spreading of the Song Locally". Silent Night Association. Retrieved 22 December 2017. 
  5. ^ "Origin of the Song". Silent Night Association. Retrieved 22 December 2017. 
  6. ^ "Silent Night" revisited by Norbert Müllemann, G. Henle Verlag, 24 December 2012
  7. ^ Underwood, Byron Edward, "Bishop John Freeman Young, Translator of 'Stille Nacht'", The Hymn, v. 8, no. 4, October 1957, pp. 123–132.
  8. ^ Meredith Ellis Little (2001). Siciliana. Grove Music Online. ISBN 978-1561592630.
  9. ^ Gerlinde Haid (1994). Siciliano als Typus weihnachtlicher Volksmusik. 175 Jahre "Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!" (in German), p.135–146. Salzburg.
  10. ^ Ronald M. Clancy, William E Studwell. Best-Loved Christmas Carols. Christmas Classics Ltd, 2000.
  11. ^ "Silent Night". Silent Night Web. 
  12. ^ Evangelisches Gesangbuch, hymn no. 46; Gotteslob, hymn no. 249 (was 145)
  13. ^ "Silent Night, Holy Night", The United Methodist Hymnal, number 239, translated by John F. Young (stanzas 1–3) and anon. (stanza 4),
  14. ^ Guerrieri, Matthew (December 20, 2014). "With 'Stille Nacht,' Schnittke couched protest in tradition". The Boston Globe. Retrieved December 24, 2017. 
  15. ^ Ross, Alex (28 September 1992). "Connoisseur of Chaos: Schnittke". The New Republic. Archived from the original on 29 June 2017. Retrieved 24 December 2017. 
  16. ^ "Silent Night, Holy Night (TV Movie 1976)". IMDb. 27 December 2008. Retrieved 17 February 2017. 
  17. ^ "Silent Mouse (1988)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 29 November 2015. 
  18. ^ "Buster and Chauncey's Silent Night". TCM. Retrieved 23 November 2016. 
  19. ^ "Silent Night | Movieguide | Movie Reviews for Christians". Movieguide. Retrieved 17 February 2017. 
  20. ^ First Silent Night, The, production details

External links[edit]