The Tyrolese Song

The church organ was broken! Christmas was only a few days away and everyone wondered what could take the place of the organ so there would be music for the Christmas Eve service.

The little Austrian village of Oberndorf lay deep in snow. The winter stars shone brightly through the cold clear night as Father Joseph Mohr plowed through the forest to visit a woodchopper’s wife who had given birth to a child. It was late when he reached the home. In the light of the fire he saw the new mother bending over her tiny infant. They reminded the young priest of Mary and her Baby who was born in a stable in Bethlehem.

Walking back to the village through the quiet white wintry beauty of the forest, words began to sing together in Father Mohr’s head: “Silent night, holy night …” Even after he arrived home, the words continued to flow through his mind. It was almost daybreak before he had put them all together and written them down and gone to bed.

Early the next morning he decided that the words should be put to music. His best friend was Franz Gruber, who taught school and played the church organ, and so he hurried to the Gruber home with his poem. Franz wrote a melody to his friend’s words to be sung by two voices accompanied by a guitar.

At the church service in snowy Oberndorf that Christmas Eve of 1818, Franz played the guitar, and he and Father Mohr sang for the first time “Silent Night,” the Christmas carol that is loved by children everywhere.

First known as “The Tyrolese Song,” it was introduced to the world by four children—two sisters and two brothers—who went to Leipzig one year and sang it so beautifully that the music director of the Kingdom of Saxony asked them to sing the carol at a concert.

In 1850 the Imperial Church choir of Berlin sang the song for King Frederick William IV, who was so delighted that he asked to personally meet the writer and composer. By that time Father Mohr had died, but Franz Gruber was honored for his music; his guitar is now in the Municipal Museum at Hallbein.

Again at this Christmas time, one hundred and fifty-three years later, in remembrance of the Babe of Bethlehem, children everywhere will sing the lovely “Silent Night” that two friends of Oberndorf, Austria, gave to the world.

[illustration] Illustrated by Sherry Thompson