First Performance of “Silent Night”

First Performance of “Silent Night”

US #5248 includes a line from “Silent Night.” Click the image to order.

“Silent Night” was first performed on Christmas Eve in the small town of Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria, in 1818.

The story goes that the organ at St. Nicholas’ parish was broken and could not be repaired before Christmas.  A young priest named Joseph Mohr remembered a poem he had written in 1816.  The poem described the tranquil scene of Jesus’ birth. 

US #5247-50 were issued in 2017 to honor popular Christmas carols. Click the image to order.

Mohr brought the poem to the church’s organist Franz Xaver Gruber and asked him to create a melody and guitar accompaniment.  At Christmas Eve mass, the duo performed the new carol.  

US #5247-50 – Set of 4 Fleetwood First Day Covers with Digital Color Postmarks. Click the image to order.

A few weeks later when the organ was being fixed, Gruber sat down to test the keys and played the melody to the new Christmas carol.  The repairman fell in love with the song and passed it on to two well-known singing groups in his home village, the Rainers and the Strassers.  The Rainers performed the song for Franz I of Austria and Alexander I of Russia.  They also made the first performance of “Silent Night” in the US in 1839 in New York City.  By the 1840s, the song was a favorite of Frederick William IV of Prussia. 

Although today we know “Silent Night” as a slow song, Gruber had written a slightly more upbeat melody that was in 6/8 time.  The English version of “Silent Night” was translated in 1859 and can now be found in hundreds of different languages.

US #5247-50 – Set of 4 Fleetwood First Day Covers.  Click the image to order.

In 2011, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared “Silent Night” an “intangible cultural heritage.”  St. Nicholas’ church, where the song was first performed, was severely damaged by flooding and was demolished in 1913.  A new church had been built in 1906 in the new town center (the entire town was moved upstream to avoid the heavy flooding.)  During World War I, the citizens of Oberndorf sought to honor the centennial of “Silent Night” but little was done due to the war.  Then in 1924, construction began on a memorial chapel.  It was completed in 1937 and named Feast of the Assumption, though it is also known as the Silent Night Chapel. 

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9 responses to "First Performance of “Silent Night”"

9 thoughts on “First Performance of “Silent Night””

  1. TO DON AND OTHERS,
    I, AS A HISTORIAN, REALY APPRECIATE THIS SITE AND WHSH THAT MORE YOUNGER PEOPLE WOULD UNDERSTAND THE VALUE OF COLLECTING AND ENJOY THE BACKGROUND OF WHAT YOU VOICE.
    THANKS AND MERRY CHRISTMAS,

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  2. The way you nail every holiday with stamp and event history is really appreciated. It’s wonderful to be able to share a hobby in this way by the stories behind what was done with family and friend members.

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  3. Thanks for the information! I would urge you to see the 2012 movie “Silent Night” that tells the wonderful true story behind this song! My wife & I have this taped & have made a new tradition of watching it each Christmas!

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  4. I very much appreciate the time and care that the wonderful folks at Mystic Stamps put into these “Day In History” articles. It’s a welcome (albeit short) break each day from much of the stressful world news that bombards us. Please keep it up, and Merry Christmas to Mystic Stamps and all my fellow collectors!

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  5. Father Mohr was my great uncle. His sister, Margaret Mohr was married to my great grandfather, Joseph Winterhalder in Germany. They came to New Orleans in the mid 19 th century and are buried in a tomb which I now own in New Orleans.

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  6. Tomorrow I will be giving one of grandsons a Stamp Album, lots of stamps and miscellaneous tools. It is my hope that he will embrace philately as a lifetime hobby. I am giving his brother a coin collection and various tools. My hope is that both will learn the history behind each stamp and coin. I have been a stamp collector since I was very young (now 78) and I see both hobbies as an ongoing history lesson. Every stamp and coin have a story.

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