Carol of the Day for New Year's Day 2022

by Alderley Edge Methodist Church  |  Posted at 16:00pm on 2nd January 2022

Carol for the Day: New Year's Day

Happy New Year everyone! Many thanks to Jenny Limond for today's reflection on Stille Nacht — Silent Night.

Stille Nacht or Silent Night was first performed on Christmas Eve at St Nicholas Church in Obendorf, a village in the Austrian Empire on the Salzach River in present day Austria. A young Catholic priest, Father Joseph Mohr had come the year before. He wrote the poem in his father’s hometown Mariapfarr, Salzburg, in 1818 where he was working as an assistant priest.

The melody was composed by Franz Xavier Gruber, schoolmaster and organist in the nearby village of Arnsdorf. As the organ had been damaged by flooding Gruber was asked by Mohr to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the Christmas Eve mass.

The Church was eventually destroyed and replaced in 1906 by a Parish church in the centre which is where the carol was first performed.

 
   

Its 100thanniversary in December 1918 fell at a difficult time  immediately after WWI. Still the citizens of Oberndorf wanted to honour the message of peace created by Mohr and Gruber. Begun in 1924, construction of a memorial chapel on the site of the original St. Nicholas Church proceeded during the economic constraints of the the First Austrian Republic. Eventually the Silent-Night-Chapel was completed in 1937, on the Feast of the Assumption. This Chapel is visited by thousands of people annually (among them myself with a school party from the Ryleys School when I collected the decoration pictured above!). On Christmas Eve at 5pm the famous carol is sung in many languages and since 2002 has been transmitted on the internet by means of the local webcam.

 

The song became so popular that it travelled across Austria with the organ builder from Obendorf and then with folk singers who performed to Franz I of Austria and Alexander I of Russia. It even reached New York in 1839. By the 1840s it was well known in Lower Saxony and was a favourite of Fredrick William IV of Prussia.

 

The original manuscript was lost and it was assumed that the melody was composed by a famous composer, frequently being  attributed to Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven. However in 1995 a manuscript was found in Mohr’s handwriting and dated as 1820.  The first version of the music was a moderato tune in 6-8 time and siciliana rhythm, but the contemporary version as we know it is a slow meditative pastorale or lullaby. The original German text of 6 verses was translated by the Episcopal priest John Freeman Young, then serving at Trinity Church, New York City. We usually sing 3 of these. The carol has been translated into about 140 languages.

 

Several films depict how the song was ostensibly written:

“The Legend of Silent Night” (1968) “Silent Night” (2012)

“The First Silent Night” (2014)

 

The tune is quoted in the Christmas section of Organ pieces by Max Reger ‘Sieben Stücke’. Vast numbers of singers from different genres have performed the carol, the version sung by Bing Crosby being the 3rd best selling single of all time.

 

Finally Silent Night is remembered in the context of WWI when  during the Christmas Truce of 1914 thousands of British, Belgian and French soldiers put down their rifles, sang carols and stepped out of their trenches to mingle with their German enemies along the Western front.

 

A century later, this  truce has been remembered as a testament to the power of hope and human desire for peace.

Let us believe that we can move into 2022 with hope in our hearts for better days ahead and that the sense of Peace invoked by this carol can remain with us in the dark wintry days ahead.

Spring is round the corner!

Happy New Year 2022 to you all.

📯🎶