one of the great Christmas carols, Silent Night has special meaning for
me in several ways. It is particularly appealing to me, as a guitarist,
because the first version ever performed and written was with a guitar
accompaniment. There are only so many great songs and it is nice the guitar
can claim this one. Also, I was born in Salzburg, Austria, birthplace
of the lyricist. And Franz Gruber, the composer, was born not far from
there. The song is in the great tradition of the Tyrolean folk songs that
I learned growing up. The guitar has a long and honored history in that
part of the world. Where would the Trapp Family Singers be without it?
The German words for Silent Night were written in 1816 by Fr. Joseph Mohr,
a young priest assigned to a church in Mariapfarr, Austria. While Mohr
was at his next assignment in Oberndorf, he asked his friend Franz Xaver
Gruber, a musician and schoolteacher, to add a melody and guitar accompaniment.
At the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass in 1918, Mohr and Gruber performed
"Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!"
Later the song was sung by traveling folk singers, and eventually it became
very popular in Europe. The melody changed slightly, becoming the familiar
melody we know today.
The manuscript of the original guitar arrangement is missing, but several
other Gruber manuscripts of the carol still exist. The manuscript by Joseph
Mohr, from around 1820, is for guitar accompaniment, and is probably closest
the to original melody and arrangement sung at the 1818 Midnight Mass.