Most loved Christmas carol turns 200
December 24, 2018 -- Silent Night, one of the best loved Christmas carols, was first performed two centuries ago. Now sung in 300 languages around the world, it is a key part of Yuletide festivities.
Composed in 1818 by school teacher and organist Franz Xaver Gruber to lyrics by a young priest, Joseph Mohr, Stille Nacht was heard for the first time on Christmas Eve at St Nicolas’ Church in the small town of Oberndorf near Salzburg, Austria.
In 1832 the song was sung in public in Leipzig by a family of Tyrolean folk singers, and its popularity soon spread around Europe. It was first performed in the United States in 1839, and by the end of the 19th century it had become familiar around the world after Christian missionaries took the Christmas carol to East Africa, New Zealand and South America.
On December 24, 1914, soldiers on opposing sides in World War I sang Silent Night together across the trenches of the Western Front, and in 2011 the song was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.
It has been recorded by a large number of singers from every music genre – the version by Bing Crosby remains the third best-selling single of all-time.
The church of St Nicolas no longer exists, but the Silent Night Chapel, standing on the same site, will be the centre of the 200th anniversary celebrations in Austria.