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In Search of the Origin of “Silent Night”

In Search of the Origin of Silent Night

Saturday, December 22, 2018

In Search of the Origin of Silent Night

Silent nights are an unusual prevalence in The Massive Apple, however on a frosty night in late November, a gaggle of individuals are gathered at a Colonial-Period churchyard cemetery on the grounds of New York Metropolis’s Trinity Church. There’s a nip in the air, however it has zero impact on the feeling of heat and fellowship amongst the crowd standing underneath the vibrant lights of the big towers of the metropolis’s Monetary District.

On this night time, Decrease Manhattan’s nocturnal cacophony of howling sirens, honking automotive horns and the bustling bleat of vacation buyers can be stilled for a second or two. The event: an outside live performance celebrating the bicentennial of one of the world’s most beloved Christmas carols, “Silent Night.”

For most individuals “Silent Night” is related to crooner Bing Crosby. Crosby initially recorded the track to assist increase cash for the St. Colomban Overseas Missionary Society in 1935. The track was an prompt hit, however when Crosby carried out it once more in his hit movie Going My Means in 1944, the music turned an prompt basic engrained in the vacation season psyche of People, and most of the English-speaking world.

The roots of “Silent Night,” nevertheless, will not be American, they’re Austrian. The track we all know and love at present, was initially inked as a six stanza poem by a younger assistant priest from Salzburg named Joseph Mohr in 1816.

Central Europe, for these of you unfamiliar with early 19th-Century socio-political historical past, was nonetheless reeling from the horrors of the Napoleonic Wars, political upheaval and financial distress. Then, in 1815, an Indonesian volcano named Mt. Tambora popped its earthly cork, blanketing the skies throughout the globe with a lethal ashen shroud inflicting an eco-catastrophe that darkened the skies, dropped temperatures and destroyed crops, leaving tens of millions hungry and destitute.

With rampant famine and poverty raging throughout Europe, and one of the coldest, darkest years in recorded historical past, the following yr, 1816, can be remembered as the “Year Without a Summer.” It’s not a stretch to think about how this horrible time might have affected a younger priest, and impressed him to put in writing a poem about peace on earth.

Not lengthy after the last bell has tolled on Wall Road’s close by inventory trade, and the plenty of financiers, bankers and merchants have gone house for the night time, three well dressed ladies make there approach by means of the Trinity churchyard gathering and switch to face the crowd in entrance of a stately stone monument belonging to Alexander Hamilton. The ladies are wearing magnificent, brightly coloured, conventional Austrian dirndl clothes. One of them, carrying a guitar, leads a gaggle of angelic youth choristers wearing deep purple choral garb.

The three ladies, who’re recognized in Austria as The Kroll Household singers, are joined by one other tall Austrian soprano, and together with choir ensembles from Trinity Church they start to serenade the viewers and the departed souls memorialized on the weather-beaten tombstones in the churchyard, with heavenly renditions of “Stille Nacht” (“Silent Night”) in its unique German earlier than performing it in a number of different languages.

The relevance of the website chosen for this vacation live performance isn’t coincidental. In accordance with native historical past, the very location of the efficiency on this night is the similar one utilized by one other Austrian singing troupe, The Rainer Household Singers. The Rainers, common songsters of their native Austria, traveled all the approach from the hovering peaks of the Tyrollean Alps to introduce People to their beloved track of peace means again in 1839, the first time “Silent Night” is believed to have been sung in North America.

The gorgeous Christmas hymn The Rainer Household carried throughout the Atlantic was virtually 20 years previous when it was first heard on American shores. Not lengthy after penning what would develop into the lyrics to “Stille Nacht,” Mohr moved to work as an assistant priest at a small church in Oberndorf, a small riverside city close to Salzburg. Whereas there, he requested an area instructor he had befriended to compose a melody for the poem he’d written. Franz Xaver Gruber took up the activity, and on Christmas Eve, 1818, the music UNESCO has acknowledged as an element of the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage, was first sung at the St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf.

In Search of the Origin of Silent Night

Impressed by the information that this lovely carol was created in a rustic I’ve come to know intimately over the years as a ski journalist, I made a decision to make a pilgrimage to its place of start. So I added Salzburg and Oberndorf to a pre-Christmas ski journey I had been planning, and on a cold December morning one week earlier than the music’s 200th anniversary, I boarded a practice sure for the birthplace of “Silent Night”

After of week of sunshine and hero snow in Austria’s spectacular Innsbruck, Oetztal and Arlberg areas, I pulled into Salzburg’s principal practice station on a crisp, sunny morning. Salzburg, for those who’ve by no means been, is one of the most lovely fairy story cities on earth. Sitting in the shadow of the majestic Hohensalzburg Fortress, on the shores of the Salzach River, Salzburg and its colourful cluster of ornate Baroque buildings, towering church buildings and cobblestone squares is the jewel of the Alps.

Salzburg’s favourite native son is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and his presence is felt all through the metropolis, however nowhere greater than on Getreidegasse, the place vacationers line as much as take selfies in entrance of the brilliant yellow constructing he was born in. Any go to to Salzburg is a feast for the senses, with the music of Mozart all the time in the air, and the scent of chocolate Mozartkuglen (a darkish chocolate marble sized ball crammed with marzipan, pistachio and nougat) by no means distant, however in December throughout the Creation interval it looks like the metropolis turns the sensual dial as much as 11.

Christkindlmarkts (Christmas Markets) might be discovered throughout the Salzburg, actually it’s onerous to not come throughout one throughout this festive time of yr. The scent of Gluhweing (mulled wine), roasted chestnuts, and the sounds of Christmas songs performed by road musicians, outside choirs and random carolers is an unforgettable feast for the senses.

Unable to withstand the sights, sounds and smells of the metropolis’s Christkindlmarkts, I assumed just a little journey of yuletide fancy can be a pleasant method to start my pilgrimage to Oberndorf later that afternoon. I took a stroll throughout the romantic Makartsteg Bruck, which is called Salzburg’s bridge of love as a result of of the hundreds of tiny locks lovers have adorned it with. It led me into the Sternbrau Creation Market, a secret, off-the-beaten-path Christkindlemarkt an area pal had as soon as proven me. This market is tiny in comparison with Salzburg’s two essential and far bigger Christkindlmarkts (Domplatz and Residenzplatz) in the metropolis’s previous city, however the stone arches and medieval-covered walkway onto Getreidegasse have an irresistible previous world allure that have to be seen firsthand.

After scoring a pair of Mozart figurine tree ornaments and coiffing a scrumptious apple flavored Gluhweing at the Stern Creation Market, I made a beeline for the Residenzplatz market the place one other native good friend had informed me I might discover a ornamental cowbell from a stand with an actual reside blacksmith on website. Upon discovering stated smithy, and convincing the pleasant Austrian blacksmith to let me have a couple of whacks on the anvil he had arrange, I waltzed over to a close-by stand with the most tasty and colourful pretzel formed meringues my eyes had ever seen, and promptly gorged myself on two of these heavenly, delicious egg white-based confections.

My subsequent cease was the famed Salzburg Museum and its “Silent Night” Exhibition (open till February 2, 2019) the place I used to be advised I might discover two of the earliest manuscripts associated to the track. Upon entry, guests are advised the objectives of the exhibition are two-fold. The primary is to elucidate the carol’s message, humanity’s common eager for peace, quiet and safety. The opposite and maybe extra essential message is darker, and comes as a important examination of how the carol has been misused by means of promoting, politics and business by means of the years.

Seeing paperwork associated to the track in Mohr and Gruber’s hand was spectacular, however paled compared to a 5-minute 1942 Nazi audio recording of “Silent Night” made out there to guests on earphones. The Weihnachtsringsendung (“Christmas Ring Transmission”) options the voices of troopers from totally different theaters of conflict, on numerous fronts, and even in U-boats singing “Silent Night” collectively. The twisted use of this music of peace to bolster the bond between fighters in the subject and the Fatherland is testomony to the depths to which the Third Reich would sink to win the conflict.

In Search of the Origin of Silent Night

With a newfound appreciation of how a music of peace could possibly be weaponized, I used to be extra curious than ever to see the floor zero level of the carol I’d innocently sung each Christmas since my childhood. A 35-minute practice journey later, I discovered myself strolling alongside a levee on the shores of the meandering Salzach River on my approach to the sleepy little city of Oberndorf the place “Silent Night” was first sung.

As the winter solar was setting, I noticed some twinkling fairy lights at the entranceway to a small cluster of buildings. At the middle of this riverside hamlet, on a excessive hill flanked by a tall white water tower and Mesner Home, the former rectory the place Mohr as soon as lived, stood a easy, tiny white chapel with a black dome. This was it, the place the place the world’s most beloved track of peace was born.

The chapel, a memorial to the now long-gone unique church of St. Nicholas the place Mohr and Gruber serenaded parishioners after the Christmas Eve service of 1818, was a hive of exercise. Vacationers have been streaming out and in, with a line to get in. After a big group of vacationers who have been on a guided bus tour exited the chapel, I walked in for my first take a look at the tiny chapel. No ostentation, just some rows of church pews, two small stained glass home windows, a easy alter, a number of bouquets of flowers and two small stands the place pilgrims might mild small candles. That is what I’d hoped to seek out, a spot with out glittering statues, giants works of artwork or large rose home windows. As an alternative, a quiet little nook of the world to consider peace on earth and good will towards males.

As I lit a small votive candle and stated a prayer for members of my household I’d misplaced over the years, the silence of the night time that had fallen outdoors transported me again to locations and issues I’d seen earlier than. Like the photographs of a small Bosnian woman who simply had handed in her father’s arms — haunting video I’d chosen to not use in a tv information phase I’d produced years earlier — or pictures of the horrors of genocide in Darfur and hunger in Yemen. And eventually, to the unforgettable photographs of the twin towers of the World Commerce Middle crumbling simply steps away from Trinity Church the place my journey had begun.

The message of “Silent Night” is as related at present because it was when Mohr and Gruber first sang it, and in some ways the planet hasn’t modified very a lot. So when you occur to sing this iconic music of peace and love over the holidays, do it with pleasure and hope in your coronary heart for a greater world, identical to the individuals who first heard it in a small Austrian village precisely 200 years in the past this Christmas Eve.


By Mike Mastarciyan / Mike Mastarciyan Instagram

Mike Mastarciyan bio pictureMichael Mastarciyan is a Toronto-based print and tv journalist with a ardour for snowboarding, golf and basic international wandering. When he’s not reviewing golf programs, chasing winter on the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup tour or working in tv sports activities information manufacturing, you’ll discover him reviewing skiwear for SNOW Journal the place he’s Affiliate Trend Editor. You possibly can see the place his newest travels take him by following @theskiwriter, @canadiandownhillers or @skigolfpostcards on Instagram.