- Singing the Faith: 217 (CD9 #18)
- Joseph Mohr trans Stopford Brooke
- “Stille Nacht” by Franz Gruber
Ideas for singing
This is a carol that lends itself to being sung unaccompanied or with a simple guitar accompaniment (as at its first performance). It might be sung effectively as a prayer, while seated.
Surely this carol has the most well-known story attached to its genesis of any carol or hymn.
The words of “Silent Night” were written in 1816 by Jospeh Mohr, an Austrian priest. The carol’s familiar tune was written two years later, on Christmas Eve 1818, by Franz Gruber, in the schoolhouse at Arnsdorf where he was a teacher. Popular legend has it that the village organ in Oberndorf had broken down and that Gruber wrote the melody to be played on a guitar. This story is apocryphal at best, but the fact that the tune was completed just in time for Christmas midnight mass that evening does appear to be true. (Source: Keyte and Parrott, New Oxford Book of Carols)
Since then, this evocative carol has attracted the skills of performers as different as Britney Spears and the Vienna Boys' Choir while retaining the lilting simplicity that makes it as much a lullaby for the new-born Jesus as an awed song of praise. There is even a Silent Night Society.
Frequently translated, in the First World War the song was sung simultaneously in French, English and German by troops during the Christmas truce of 1914, as it was one carol that soldiers on both sides of the front line knew.
Many English translations have been made - the one used in successive Methodist hymn books being adapted from that made by Stopford Brooke and published in 1881. The first line, which in German is "Stille Nacht! heilige Nacht!", was originally translated as "Sill the night, holy the night", which was the version included in the 1933 Methodist Hymn Book.