Every year, millions of people around the world come together around the Christmas tree to sing one song in particular: Silent Night. So today, read on to discover the story of how a humble poem grew to become the world’s best-known Christmas carol – and explore a series of idyllic spots in Austria which played a key role in the development of Silent Night.
Salzburg: where the music first began to grow
Joseph Mohr – later a priest, and whose quill pen produced the words of the poem ‘Silent Night’ – grew up in impoverished circumstances, as an illegitimate child in Salzburg. Thanks to a bit of luck and above all his precocious musical talent, however, he was adopted by the then cathedral vicar, and was one of the best pupils at the Akademisches Gymnasium. As a result, he was awarded a place in the Abbey Choir of St. Peter, and received an excellent education.
Experience the Silent Night city of Salzburg… If you still want to follow the trail of Joseph Mohr in Salzburg, you’re best off joining one of the special ‘Silent Night tours’ through town. From late-November onwards, you’ll also be able to experience the song in a new stage play at the Felsenreitschule. Meine Stille Nacht is a musical in grand Hollywood style.
Mariapfarr: where those words became a poem
Joseph Mohr took up his first post as a curate in Mariapfarr. It was here, in 1816, that he wrote the poem Silent Night, at a time when living conditions were shaped by hunger and war. These influences moved Mohr to write his poem, which references our need for hope and faith.
Experience the Silent Night town of Mariapfarr… The short hike around Mariapfarr, which starts off at the Pilgrimage and Silent Night Basilica, is particularly lovely.
Arnsdorf: where Silent Night was given a melody
Franz Xaver Gruber lived with his family at the old primary school of Arnsdorf at this time. Gruber may have been an outstanding teacher, but music was his true passion. It is highly probable that the living areas of the school were where he composed the melody to Silent Night.
Experience the Silent Night town of Arnsdorf… The old schoolhouse is well preserved to this day, and has been home to a Museum since 1957. Here, you can immerse yourself in the life of Franz Xaver Gruber 200 years ago.
Oberndorf: where the song rang out for the first time
The small town of Oberndorf, in the Flachgau region, is not far from the City of Salzburg. This is where the song was performed for the first time, on Christmas Eve 1818, at the Christmas Mass in St. Nicholas parish church – accompanied by a guitar.
Experience the Silent Night town of Oberndorf… Although the original church was destroyed by flooding, the ‘Silent Night Chapel’ was built on the same spot some years later. Today, you’ll also find the Silent Night Museum in the adjacent vicarage.
Hallein: where the song was given its organ accompaniment
In 1835, Franz Xaver Gruber got his heart’s desire: he was given a post at the parish church of Hallein, where he was able to devote his time fully to music, as a choir master, choir singer and organist. Although Gruber composed vigorously, and created many other musical works, Silent Night continued to move him, and in 1836 he wrote an organ accompaniment for the song.
Experience the Silent Night town of Hallein… During Advent, you can get to know the life of Franz Xaver Gruber in a theatrical and highly entertaining tour of Hallein. Here, too, there’s a Silent Night Museum, which shows an excellent documentation of the Christmas carol.
Fügen: where Silent Night became world-famous
Organ builder Carl Mauracher regularly travelled from his home town of Fügen to Oberndorf, to repair the organ there. On one of these visits, he also got to know Franz Xaver Gruber, and the song Silent Night. We have Carl Mauracher to thank for the fact that the song made it to Zillertal at the time.
Later, highly musical families of singers performed the song to Kaiser Ferdinand I and his followers at Fügen Castle. Now known as the “Zillertaler Nationalsänger”, the troupe of musicians took the melody abroad a short time afterwards, to Russia and many other countries, spreading Silent Night around the world.
Experience the Silent Night town of Fügen… The local museum is home to the world’s largest collection of records featuring the song Silent Night. Many of the thousands of records can be played quickly and easily using a smartphone.
Steyr: where Silent Night was printed for the first time
It was not until 2016 that a print was found at an antiques shop in Vienna that refers to “four beautiful new Christmas carols”, and Silent Night. This title page was produced in Steyr by book printer and trader Joseph Greis between 1827 and 1832, and it is highly probable that Greis was the first person to set and print the lyrics of the song by hand.
Experience the Silent Night town of Steyr… The Austrian Christmas Museum has also been home to a replica of the first print of Silent Night since this year. At Advent weekends, you can also meet the Christkind – better known as Father Christmas in the Central European tradition. Oh, and speaking of the Christkind… during Advent, you should definitely make a point of visiting the village of Christkindl and sending a letter to Father Christmas from the Special Post Office there.
And for those of that still haven’t had enough, you’ll find six more towns here that are linked to the world-famous song. We wish you all a wonderful trip through the fascinating history of Silent Night – find your flights here:
Header: © SalzburgerLand Tourismus | Anglickler and © TVB Oberndorf, Stille Nacht Kapelle