Posted by Jim_Daly Dec 23, 2011
History isn’t just dry dates and statistics. History is human. History can be a great source of strength and affirmation, an aide to navigation, especially in dark and dangerous times. And the words and music we love that have stood the test of time mean still more when we know their story.
- David McCullough, American historian and author
The traditional story is that Rev. Josef Mohr (1792-1848) and Franz Xaver Gruber (1787-1863) wrote it in Oberndorf, Austria, on Christmas Eve when they discovered the church organ was damaged (different versions say it rusted out, or mice chewed through vital parts3). Charming as those stories are, they are fiction. In fact, in a letter written by Franz Gruber, son of the composer, he noted that “During the time when my father was the organist of the church of St Nikola, there was a very poor almost unusable organ there. This may well explain why the Reverend Mohr preferred to accompany the carol on a well-tuned guitar than on an off-pitch organ.”
An old manuscript has reportedly been discovered that shows Rev. Mohr wrote the lyrics in 1816, and that Franz Gruber wrote the score two years later at Rev. Mohr's request (the manuscript is now located at Salzburg's Carolino Augusteum Museum; unfortunately, the English version has disappeared). Mohr never said what his inspiration was. Gruber did not disclose why Mohr made the request to add music to the poem (and you can safely disregard as purest fiction any stories about Mohr walking through the forest on a snowy night, or that invent any dialogue between the two men).
Indeed, in his later years, Rev. Mohr acknowledged his authorship of "Silent Night" to Andreas Winkler, who wrote to the Salzburger Chronik in 1897:
Along with other students I was often the guest of the extremely sociable Rev. Joseph Mohr in Wagrain. In good humour we would drink a toast to the lyricist of 'Silent Night'. He would be grateful and say that it was one of the most treasured moments of his life, when shortly before Christmas, 1818, he met Mr. Franz Gruber and said: 'Let's work up something together for Christmas eve', which was the way it turned out; 'I did the lyrics and Franz Gruber, the melody' - the same Vicar Mohr always put it in those words.
Whatever the underlying reason for Mohr's request to Gruber, this is arguably the most popular of all Christmas carols, and a favorite worldwide for over 190 years.
Excerpted from: HymsandCarolofChristmas.com
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About Jim Daly
Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family and host of its National Radio Hall of Fame-honored daily broadcast, heard by more than 2.9 million listeners a week on more than 1,000 radio stations across the U.S. He is husband to Jean and father to Trent and Troy.
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