On this Day:
In 1818, the 1st known Christmas carol (“Silent Night, Holy Night” – “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht) was sung in Austria.
“Silent Night” (German: “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht”) is a popular Christmas carol, composed in 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber to lyrics by Joseph Mohr in the small town of Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria. It was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2011. The song has been recorded by many singers across many music genres. The version sung by Bing Crosby in 1935 has sold 10 million copies as a single.
“Stille Nacht” was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, a village in the Austrian Empire on the Salzach river in present-day Austria. A young Catholic priest, Father Joseph Mohr, had come to Oberndorf the year before. In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, he had written the poem “Stille Nacht” in 1816 at Mariapfarr, the hometown of his father in the Salzburg Lungau region, where Joseph had worked as an assistant priest.
The melody was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, schoolmaster and organist in the nearby village of Arnsdorf [de], now part of Lamprechtshausen. On Christmas Eve 1818, Mohr brought the words to Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for that night’s mass, after river flooding had possibly damaged the church organ. The church was eventually destroyed by repeated flooding and replaced with the Silent-Night-Chapel. It is unknown what inspired Mohr to write the lyrics, or what prompted him to create a new carol.
According to Gruber, Karl Mauracher, an organ builder who serviced the instrument at the Oberndorf church, was enamoured with the song, and took the composition home with him to the Zillertal. From there, two travelling families of folk singers, the Strassers and the Rainers, included the tune in their shows. The Rainers were already singing it around Christmas 1819, and once performed it for an audience that included Franz I of Austria and Alexander I of Russia, as well as making the first performance of the song in the U.S., in New York City in 1839. By the 1840s the song was well known in Lower Saxony and was reported to be a favourite of Frederick William IV of Prussia. During this period, the melody changed slightly to become the version that is commonly played today.
Over the years, because the original manuscript had been lost, Mohr’s name was forgotten and although Gruber was known to be the composer, many people assumed the melody was composed by a famous composer, and it was variously attributed to Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven. However, a manuscript was discovered in 1995 in Mohr’s handwriting and dated by researchers as c. 1820. It states that Mohr wrote the words in 1816 when he was assigned to a pilgrim church in Mariapfarr, Austria, and shows that the music was composed by Gruber in 1818. This is the earliest manuscript that exists and the only one in Mohr’s handwriting.
The first edition was published by Friese in 1833 in a collection of Four Genuine Tyrolean Songs (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
Hans Gruber once said: “There’s snow place like home for the holidays…”
Second, a Song:
Mannheim Steamroller began as an alias for record producer and composer Chip Davis. The name “Mannheim Steamroller” comes from an 18th-century German musical technique, Mannheim roller (German: Mannheimer Walze), a crescendo passage having a rising melodic line over an ostinato bass line, popularized by the Mannheim school of composition. Before the fame of Steamroller, Davis had been best known for collaborating with his friend Bill Fries on the songs of the country music character “C. W. McCall” (of “Convoy” fame). Even before the height of McCall’s popularity, Davis produced an unusual album of classical music performed entirely by Davis and musical collaborator and keyboardist Jackson Berkey, using electric bass (played by Eric Hansen) and synthesizers.
Steamroller found its greatest fame beginning in 1984 when Davis released his first holiday album, Mannheim Steamroller Christmas, featuring modern contemporary interpretations of Yuletide favorites. This was followed by A Fresh Aire Christmas (1988) and Christmas in the Aire (1995), which showcased creative approaches to old carols, as well as some new carol-like compositions. Steamroller had now become one of the most requested Christmas music artists of all time, in part by adopting a very radio-friendly approach. At the end of 1997, they released a live album of Christmas music, Mannheim Steamroller Christmas Live. Their fourth all-new Christmas album, Christmas Extraordinaire, was released in 2001. However, sales of Steamroller’s third and fourth Christmas releases fell far short of the sales of Christmas and A Fresh Aire Christmas. Christmas Celebration, a compilation of favorite tracks from the previous studio albums (with one new song), was released in 2004. The studio album Christmas Song was released in late 2007 and features guest vocals by Johnny Mathis and Olivia Newton-John, but co-founder Jackson Berkey is absent from the lineup. The CD Christmasville was released in 2008. Their next release was a 25th anniversary Christmas box set consisting of previously released material, and in 2011 they released Mannheim Steamroller Christmas Symphony with members of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (per Wikipedia).
Here is Silent Night from Mannheim Steamroller’s first Christmas album. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” – Victor Hugo
Merry Christmas everyone.
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky