Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Song Heard 'Round the World

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute heilige Paar.
Holder Knab im lockigten Haar,
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!

Everybody sing!
You have no idea what this is, do you? I bet you do. But, for the sake of argument, unless you were born in the early 1800s in Austria, chances are pretty good you don’t know this version of ‘Silent Night’. As a matter of fact, most people don’t even know the full translation and only know the watered down, shorter version of Christmas Carolers.
However, the history of the song is longer than even the original 6 verses of the beloved carol. There are so many different speculations as to why it was written, and when, but the story is both simple and beautiful in it’s simplicity.

 Joseph Mohr, a German pastor assigned to a pilgrimage chapel in Austria, wrote a 6 stanza poem about the birth of Christ. The reason behind it, no one knows. There are many different speculations as to why, the most common being he came up with it while walking to visit his Grandfather, but no one really knows for sure.
Franz Gruber, a music school-teacher that lived above the school, was visited by Mohr and asked to write a guitar accompaniment to the poem. Again, there are different speculations as to why and they range from a broken organ to the assistant pastor of the Church having a love of the guitar.
Before the carol would make its way around the world, at the Christmas Eve midnight mass in 1818, the words ‘Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!’ rang out in Oberndorf, Austria for the very first time.

'Stille Nacht Kapelle' - The Silent Night Chapel, Obeerndorf, Austria
From there, things get hazy and the song gets worldwide recognition as a folk song and its humble beginnings lost and forgotten.
Not forgotten by the creators, though.
Once Karl Mauracher obtained his copy of the arrangement and it became known as a ‘Tyrolean Folk Song’, Gruber was forgotten as the composer and it took until years after his death to confirm his claim to fame. Prior to 1994 when the original manuscript was authenticated as being written in Mohr’s hand writing, naming Gruber as the composer, it was thought that Mozart or Beethoven were responsible for the music. After so many translations and the loss of the guitar accompaniment, people couldn’t really be blamed for the mix-up.
‘It seems that Austria has finally realized that their national treasure has a very special significance outside its birth nation and has become "The Song Heard 'Round The World." Perhaps this is part of the miracle of "Silent Night." The words flowed from the imagination of a modest curate. The music was composed by a musician who was not known outside his village. There was no celebrity to sing at its world premiere. Yet its powerful message of heavenly peace has crossed all borders and language barriers, conquering the hearts of people everywhere.’
Fast forward 160 years to 1976, when a humble businessman by the name of Wally Bronner from the small town of Frankenmuth, Michigan visited Oberndorf, Austria and the Silent Night Chapel. So moved by his experience, he returned home, and after many years of concerted effort, he received approval from the City Council and the Oberndorf Visitor's Bureau to construct a replica chapel on the grounds of his Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, the world's largest Christmas store. 

Silent Night Memorial Chapel, Frankenmuth, Michigan
The tranquil walkway to the Chapel's entrance is lined with plaques bearing translations of the lyrics in over 300 languages. It is a more than fitting tribute to a song that has endured the ages to become one of the most recorded Christmas classics of all times.


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