It was Christmas Eve, 1818, and Pastor Joseph Mohr was getting nervous. For the first time in history, it looked as if it was going to be a Silent Night at the Christmas Eve service at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorff, Austria. Recent flooding from the Salzach River had put their church organ out of commission and he only had a few hours to come up with a musical alternative. He needed help, and he needed it fast.
Surely filled with anxiety, Mohr walked through the cold to visit his friend Franz Gruber, a school teacher and choir master, who lived in the neighboring town of Arnsdorf bei Laufen. With him, Mohr brought a poem he had written two years prior when walking through a peaceful snowclad forest. It was the epitome of peace to him at the time. Now, that peace was gone, but he had high hopes that Gruber could set the poem to music in time for that evening’s service. Gruber accepted the challenge and within a few hours had composed the melody for Stille Nacht or Silent Night.
Because the church organ was out of commission, Gruber composed a simple arrangement for guitar and voice. Franz Gruber and Joseph Mohr traveled back to Oberdorff, where, after a short rehearsal, the two men stood before the people of the St. Nicholas Church and performed their original song. A local choir quickly learned the tune and joined the two friends as they introduced this new Christmas carol to the church, to Austria, and ultimately to the entire world.
Click here to hear Silent Night as performed by Josh Groban
*Image courtesy of Thomas Galler.
**Today’s post is a repost from 2021 at special request.