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Church standing on the site of St Nikolaus Church where "Silent Night" was played for the first time on 24 December 1818. Church standing on the site of St Nikolaus Church where "Silent Night" was played for the first time on 24 December 1818.  (AFP or licensors)

Austria Commemorates 200th Anniversary of Silent Night

Austria is commemorating the 200th anniversary of the famous Christmas carol "Silent Night". The peaceful song about the birth of Jesus that became a crucial part of Christmas celebrations, was sung publicly for the first time in December 1818 in an Austrian town.

By Stefan J. Bos 

Austria is commemorating the 200th anniversary of the famous Christmas carol that survived and sometimes interrupted wars or other conflicts. Silent Night, the peaceful song about the birth of Jesus that became a crucial part of Christmas celebrations, was sung publicly for the first time in December 1818 in an Austrian town. A series of exhibitions underscore that first  Christmas concert.

Silent Night background

Exactly 200 years after it was first performed, people gather to sing "Stille Nacht," known in English as "Silent Night." 

It's the Christmas carol that briefly silenced guns and reverberated through the tranches of World War One and other battles.  

The lyrics of "Silent Night," were written by priest Joseph Mohr in Mariapfarr, in the volatile Austrian state of Salzburg.

Two years later, Mohr was transferred to another parish, Oberndorf. There he asked the local school teacher and organist Franz Xaver Gruber to compose music for his poem.

Silent Night museum

Florian Knopp is director of Austria's Stille Nacht, or Silent Night, Museum. "The guitar you see behind me is actually the original guitar on which Silent Night, Holy Night, was played for the first time by Joseph  Mohr on December 24, 1818, and sang together with Franz Xaver Gruber, the composer of the melody," he told a visiting reporter. "One prevalent legend is that mice destroyed the organ just a few days before Christmas Eve and that they had to find another instrument," he added.

Silent Night translations

 Historians believe it was composed for the guitar as that instrument was more widely available. Since then, the Silent Night lyrics have been translated it nearly 300 languages and dialects. 

Listen to Stefan Bos' report

Silent Night artists

It also became an essential part of the repertoire of American artists, recalls multi-Grammy Award-winning producer David Foster.    

"The list is endless of Christmas albums that I have done. Michael Buble, Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli, Rod Stewart, Mary J. Blige, Dolly Parton, Celine. Silent Night is a song that permeates all of our our lives. Every generation and every person no matter what their music taste," Foster noted. 

Silent Night lives on

The Austrian UNESCO Commission has listed "Silent Night" as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of this Alpine nation. That doesn't surprise the Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Siedah Garrett.  "It is an amazing piece of music that really stood the test of time," she said.

Silent Night has played an essential role in exhibitions and politics. But everyone asked seems to agree that it also comforted people in times of hardships and wars with timeless lyrics that include the words 'Silent night, holy night! Son of God, love's pure light.

27 December 2018, 17:21