This year has already seen the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. It is also the 200th anniversary of the much-loved Christmas carol, Silent Night, which is believed to have been the song which sparked the remarkable Christmas Truce of 1914 on the Western Front.
The song was created without there ever being the intention that it should one day become famous. It was created, however, with the intention of comforting and consoling people, to give them hope and to strengthen them in their faith – all at a time when the tail-end of the Napoleonic Wars had combined with harvest failures to create terrible conditions for ordinary people all over Europe.
Joseph Mohr, the composer of the poem “Silent Night!” was a trained theologian and assistant priest. And he had a strong and unshakeable faith. He allowed this to influence the lines of the poem’s six verses.
Franz Xaver Gruber appeared to immediately comprehend the profoundness and depth of these words: He composed a song in the lullaby siciliano rhythm. A lullaby for the newly born baby Jesus. A lullaby song for us all. A song in which everyone can find themselves. A song that makes people feel safe and feel that they belong. The song’s fame may seem like a miracle, but it most certainly is not. The song was a stroke of genius!
It was first performed during Mass on Christmas Eve, 1818 in Oberndorf, Bavaria.
And so the global spread of the song was successful thanks to the Tirolean national singers: From the Zillertal valley throughout the rest of Europe, from Europe to America, to Russia, and through religious missionaries, throughout the entire world. Wherever the song was sung, it made people immediately sit up and listen. Almost as if it had a secret key to the hearts and souls of all who heard it. And even though its origins were not always clear, its cultural heritage was never lost. The exact opposite is in fact the case: It has become a song for world peace and it is also recognised and listed by UNESCO as a piece of national world heritage.
A timeless piece of music
The song has already been a “worldwide hit” for a long time, even though some do not like this description: There is hardly any global star worth their salt who have not given and recorded their own version of the song in the course of their musical career. It is a best seller. It is a sure-fire success. You never get tired of hearing it, perhaps because it is reserved for a very special time of year: the period running up to Christmas, advent and Christmas Eve. It is the time during which we want to reflect again on what’s really most important: Family and peaceful co-existence. The simplicity and the real meaning of life. All of that is reflected in “Silent Night!” and this is why the song is so timelessly modern.