Daily Archives: December 23, 2011

Song From Heaven

Carol singers

Are the children singing Christmas carols where you live?  They are here and even after all these years, Good King Wenceleslas sounds just wrong sung in the middle of summer.

I then got to thinking about some of the other Christmas hymns/carols we sing.  Do you know the story of Silent night?

We are told that on 24 December 1818 in a little village in the Austrian Alps, Father Joseph Mohr sat alone in his study reading the Bible.  A knock on his door summoned him up into one of the higher Alps to christen a boy child born that day.  He returned to his home and noticed that the hillside was alight with candles of the faithful going to Midnight Mass.  It is recorded that with the birth of the child and the lights in the valley, he felt as if a true Christmas miracle had come to pass.

Apparently, following the church service he returned to his study and tried to put down what had happened and how it had affected him.  By morning he had a poem and on Christmas Day his friend, Franz Xavier Gruber, a music teacher put the words to music.  That day in church the priest and the teacher sang the hymn unaccompanied as the organ was once again out of order.

In the village was a family of four children who sang together all the time and this new song quickly became a favourite.  In the next few years it was heard in the surrounding valleys as their parents were glove-makers and travelled to the fairs.

After hearing the children singing to entertain themselves while at the fair in Liepzig, the Director General of Music in the Kingdom of Saxony, invited them to attend a concert in the Gewandhaus (the ancient guild house of the drapers of Leipzig).  After the concert the Director General of Music, rose and invited them up to the stage.  They sang the hymn that Father Mohr had written following which there was complete silence before rapturous applause broke out. Presumably the children then sang the rest of their repertoire.

The King and Queen were in the audience and requested to receive them.  They asked the children to come to the castle to sing their song.  So on Christmas Eve in 1832 in the Royal Saxon Court in Pleissenburg Castle, at the end of the Christmas services, the four young Strasser children sang:

“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!”

And this song, composed by a humble village priest in a tiny village in the Austrian Alps has gone on to become one of the best known and best loved carols to be sung at Christmas all around the world.

Happy Holidays