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This place matters

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Silent Night

One Christmas Eve in Oberndorf, Austria, the pastor of a small church discovered that the church organ was broken, the bellows eaten by mice. With no time to fix it, the plucky pastor composed a song to be played on the guitar, and that night performed Silent Night for the first time. The song was promptly forgotten and would have been lost to history had not an organ repairman found the manuscript lying around and brought it to the masses.
Or that's the story I always heard. Sadly, according to this guy and every other source I consulted, the story of the first Silent Night is somewhat more mundane. One Christmas Eve, Fr. Joseph Mohr, associate pastor at the aforementioned small church in Oberndorf, Austria, brought a poem he'd written to the home of Franz Gruber, the church's choir director. He asked Gruber to add a melody to the song that could be played on the guitar. The composers continued to perform the song, so it was not forgotten at all, but it's true that an organ repairman found the manuscript and disseminated it far and wide. I spelled disseminated right on the first try.
Still, it's pretty impressive they slapped the thing together on New Year's Eve.
Now, if you've ever set foot inside a church in the month of December, you know the story of Christmas in the trenches, but I love it, so you get to hear it again.
It's Christmas Eve, 1914, and the English, French and Germans are all huddled in their trenches, frozen, terrified, and miserable. Suddenly out of the silence came the voice of one of the German soldiers singing:
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

The French joined in, singing:
Nuit bénit, nuit de silence!
Tout est calme en brilliance
Autour de la vièrge et son fil,
Nouveau-né, tendre est il.
Dors en paix de cieux;
Dors en paix de cieux.

And the English chimed in:
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

It was a silent night - the noise of artillery and shelling stopped, and the men came out of the trenches to celebrate the holiday together.
And then after Christmas they all went back to killing each other.
Here's my favorite recording of the hymn.


1 comment:

disheah said...

I've always loved the story of the Christmas Truce. The fact that it's historical fact is even more mind-blowing and miraculous.

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