2018 is the 200th anniversary of the first performance of the popular Christmas carol “Silent Night” (“Stille Nacht”). In 1816, Joseph Mohr wrote a six stanza poem and put it aside, not giving it much thought. But in 1818, when preparing for the Christmas Eve service, this Austrian priest discovered a problem. The church’s organ had broken and would not be repaired in time for the service. He enlisted the help of Franz Xaver Gruber, a musician who lived in a nearby village, to write a melody for this poem that could be easily learned by the church’s choir with guitar accompaniment.
In the United States, the carol was first performed in 1839 when an Austrian group sang it in English at New York City’s Trinity Church. A priest at that same church, John Freeman Young, made another English translation in 1859. It is this version with which most are familiar. The carol became popular throughout the country in short order. During the Civil War, it was common for fighting to stop so troops could come together to worship, share gifts, and sing “Silent Night.”
Between the years 1920 and 2004, “Silent Night” was the most performed song on albums. It was a hit for Bing Crosby back in 1935, and that version still gets played today. If you would like to hear that or other versions, we have many recordings in both CD and streamed formats. We also have songbooks that include the carol, as well as books and DVDs about it. What follows is a selection of what you can find here.
Performed by Bing Crosby.
Performed by The Staple Singers.