A Song that Connects Every Continent

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Silent Night
The walk through the peace path has unforgettable atmosphere.

Silent night, holy night… Who wouldn’t know the song sung by almost two billions of people in three hundred languages and dialects around the world at Christmas time every year? But only few people know where it was born and were it came from.

This year at the Christmas table, we will again hear this beautiful tune which will bring us calm and peace. Exactly the same way as it did 200 years ago when it was composed…

We decided to trace back the most popular Christmas carol, which is inscribed on the UNESCO cultural heritage list. The song that is a message of peace belongs to all people: without any difference you can hear it from mouth of opera singers, jazz artists or pop stars….

Silent Night
Franz Xaver Gruber memorial house in Hochburg-Ach

In The Beginning there Was a Word…

Three Austrian states – Salzburg, Upper Austria and Tyrol are connected with its fortune. Everything started with a poem by Jospeh Mohr, a native from Wagrain, a little village near Salzburg. This young vicar wrote the poem Silent night, holy night in 1816. The lyrics are simple but beautifully depict mother’s love to her child. Two years later, before Christmas, he got together with the teacher and organist Franz Xavier Gruber in Oberndorf near Salzburg and asked him to compose a tune for the lyrics. In that time, Gruber had his organ broken so the tune he was producing was lullaby-like played on a guitar. On the same day, both of them performed the song at St. Nicolas Church in Oberndorf on Christmas Eve in 1818. Mohr sang the main vocals and Gruber sang bass. Nowadays you can hear the same concept – two male singers accompanied by a guitar – at St. Peter’s Church in Salzburg…

Silent Night
Manuscript of Silent night

After having spent together some years in Oberndorf, the poet and composer of Silent Night stayed friends for a lifetime. Jospeh Mohr visited his friend Gruber from Wagrain, in Hallein few times. Unlike Mohr who died in 1848, Gruber could experience first success with the song in Germany…

Silent Night
Chapel of Silent night in Oberdorf was built in the place of former St. Nicolaus church, which had been destroyed.

Hope in Times of War

The song was born in hostile times, when Europe was under attack of Napoleon troops. Jospeh Mohr knew poverty since he was a child because with his mother and three siblings they had nothing to eat. Furthermore, his birthplace, Salzburg, had overcome a fire and volcanic eruption… However, the song would bring some light and hope to the people’s hard-knock lives. Its message of peace would echo with the same intensity throughout its 200 years long history both at the European and world battlefields. Jospeh Mohr was helping the poor most of his life and died as poor himself in 1848 in the age of 56. His only possession was a guitar, which after his death was given to Franz Xavier Gruber´s family. He spent his last years in Wagrain, where he is buried and the local church and school are named after him.

Silent Night
Josepha Mohr’s original guitar in Gruber’s house in Hallein

Franz Xaver Gruber worked as a teacher, organist and sacristy administrator in Arnsdorf for more than 20 years. The first tones of Silent night were most probably composed in the old local school, where nowadays his museum is located. Later, he left to Hallein so he could spend time composing music. There is another museum in Hallein where visitors can see the original furniture, Joseph Mohr’s guitar and manuscript of his songs. You can find the memorial house of Franz Xavier Gruber in Upper Austrian Hochburg-Ach, where he was born.  He was born to a family of weavers and was taught to play organ by a local priest. The original house, where he was born, was destroyed at the beginning of the 19th century but the memorial house was built in exactly the same style. An interesting walk through the peace path will connect you with all the nations around the globe. You will also learn some facts about Gruber and how the song spread to the world…

Silent Night
The museum of Silent night in Arndorf

The Song Goes to the World…

It has been incorrectly thought that Silent Night has its origins in Tyrol. But we already know it was different. The song arrived to Tyrol thanks to the local Zillertal organ producer Carl Mauracher, who on one of his business trips visited Oberndorf, where he heard the song and brought it to his birth place Fügen. And right from here its victorious pilgrimage to the world had started. This was especially due to talented singers from the family of farmer Ludwig Rainer. Tyrolean singers sang Silent night at various occasions but it became extremely successful after a concert at Fügen castle, which was attended by Russian tsar Alexander I. as well. He fell in love with the song so he invited them to perform in St. Petersburg. Although this had never happened, Tyrolean singers received many invitations to perform at many European courts. In 1827, they traveled to England and in 1838 Silent night was sang on 5th Avenue in New York City. The Americans were completely touched by it. It is also important to mention the Upper Austrian town Steyr, where the song lyrics, which made Austria famous, were printed for the first time. By the way this city also hosts the biggest museum of Christmas decorations in the world.  It contains 14,000 Christmas ornaments made of glass, porcelain, metal or paper from 1830 to 1945.

Silent Night
Joseph Mohr’s bust in Mariapfarr

200-Year Celebrations

There are 13 places in 3 Austrian Federation states – Salzburg, Upper Austria and Tyrol, which have something to do with the birth and spreading of the song. The museums, exhibitions, memorial board and chapels tell an interesting story about the creators and in the same time they look into history of art, music, architecture and regional diversity.  You can find exhibitions held from 29th September 2018 to 3rd February 2019 in nine of them. The museums in Salzburg, Arnsdorf, Oberndor, Hallein, Wagrain and Mariapfarr display different perspectives of the song and its creators. Hintersee offers a thematic educational trail dedicated to the song. Another part of the project is Upper Austrian Hochburg-Ach (The birthplace of J. X. Gruber) and Tyrolean Fügen. More information at a web site: www.stillenacht.com.

Silent Night
The Christmas market in Salzburg is one of the most beautiful ones.

Text: Marianna Sadloňová, photo: Franz Xaver Gruber Gemeinschaft, SalzburgerLand Tourismus