Silent Night frequently tops the polls as one of our Nation’s favourite Christmas carols. And, as this Christmas Eve will mark 200 years since its first ever performance, we decided to find out the real story behind the song.

Silent Night: The Fantastic Legend

Legend has it that the song was written on Christmas Eve, 1818 in St Nicholas’ church in Oberndorf, Austria. It was discovered that mice had destroyed the bellows of the church organ, so a young priest, Joseph Mohr, was tasked with writing a new hymn for that evening’s Midnight Mass. With no organ available, the priest wrote Silent Night with a guitar accompaniment and he saved the day. The song we all know and love today, was sung for the first time that Christmas Eve.

The truth is not quite so dramatic, but still remarkable.

Silent Night: The Fantastic Truth

The lyrics to Silent night were actually written two years earlier, in 1816 when Joseph Mohr was based in a pilgrimage church in Mariapfrr, Austria. He moved to Oberndorf a year later, in 1817 and developed a friendship with a school teacher named Franz Gruber. Where the legend and the real story marry up is that the lyrics were indeed written on December 24th, 1818. Joseph Mohr asked his good friend, Franz Gruber to create lyrics to his music. The song was created using a guitar accompaniment and was first sung that very evening at Midnight Mass in St Nicholas’, Oberndorf.

Nobody really knows why the song was accompanied by a guitar. Perhaps, the organ was in disrepair, or perhaps it was a stroke of genius that would help to create one of the most enduring Christmas songs of all time.

Joseph Mohr died before his song achieved fame throughout Europe. Gruber was not credited for his part in creating the melody until 1994, when a long-lost arrangement, written in Mohr’s hand was found. On the top right-hand corner of the musical composition Mohr’s words stated “Melodie von Fr. Xav. Gruber.”

The surviving original music in Mohr’s hand – Carolino Augusteum, Salzburg

A Few ‘Silent Night’ Facts

Silent Night’s beautiful words of peace and love flowed from the soul of a young priest and its musical composition was created by an unremarkable, village school teacher.

Silent Night is a song that has stood the test of time for 200 years and which will continue to resound with so many around the world for many years to come.

Silent Night has been translated into an estimated 140 languages.

Silent Night was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2011.

So, this year, when you Silent Night whilst out Christmas shopping, or if you’re at at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and you sing Silent Night, spare a thought for the two hundred-year anniversary of its creation and the two unlikely heroes of music history.

If you would love to be the next Joseph Mohr or Franz Gruber, then please get in touch with us at the college. With our expert guitar tuition or lessons in musical composition, you never know….someone could be embellishing stories about you in a few hundred years’ time.

Call 0113 243 1605