NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, December 21st. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Once again, we’ll end our program week with a song. Today our featured selection is not technically an Advent hymn, but a Christmas carol. Still, the song’s about the whole point of Christmas. So we thought we’d include it in our Advent series.
EICHER: You’ll hear about a variety of renditions of this song.
Here’s Paul Butler now to tell us more about a beloved Christmas hymn written 200 years ago in Austria.
SILENT NIGHT — ARRANGED FOR SOLO GUITAR BY DAVID VAN OOIJEN (2018)
The story goes that on Christmas eve, 1818, Joseph Mohr, an assistant priest at St. Nikola Catholic Church in Oberndorf, needed a song for midnight mass. Mohr remembered a poem he’d written a couple years earlier, but it needed a tune. So he dug the lyrics out, bundled himself up, and hiked more than a mile to Franz Gruber’s house, the church choirmaster and organist.
Gruber quickly wrote a simple tune, but flooding had damaged the church organ, so he had to write it for other instrumentation instead. Mohr played the guitar, so they decided on that. A few hours later, the two men trudged back to the church, rehearsed with the choir, and “Silent Night” was born.
SILENT NIGHT — EDISON MALE QUARTETTE (1905)
The most common English version of the song first appeared in 1863. Episcopal priest John Freeman Young translated it. Mohr’s original lyrics included six verses, but today, most hymnals only include three or four.
The English lyrics are not exact translations from German. Instead, they capture the essence of the text, taking a few liberties along the way.
SILENT NIGHT — ARETHA FRANKLIN
The tune “Stille Nacht” is not quite the same melody as the one written by Gruber, but they are very similar.
An Austrian singing group first introduced the song to American audiences in 1839. But it wasn’t until 1935 that Bing Crosby’s performance of the song made it a Christmas classic in the U.S.:
SILENT NIGHT — BING CROSBY
“Silent Night” has been translated into more than 140 different languages and recorded in hundreds of different styles. Some are very traditional, like this one by the Moscow Boys Choir…
SILENT NIGHT — BY THE MOSCOW BOYS CHOIR
Other renditions are more celebratory, like the University of Surrey’s Gospel Choir cover of Kirk Franklin…
SILENT NIGHT — UNIVERSITY OF SURREY GOSPEL CHOIR
Austria considers “Silent Night” a national treasure. In fact, the song may not be played publicly before Christmas Eve. In 2011, the United Nations recognized the song as a part of Austria’s “cultural heritage.”
We end today’s program with an original arrangement of “Silent Night” by Sean Kisch. Cedarville University music students performed it in 2016.
SILENT NIGHT — CEDARVILLE MUSIC STUDENTS, ARRANGED BY SEAN KISCH
Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Paul Butler.