Herald: 200 Years of Silent Night
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200 Years of Silent Night

23 Dec 2018 05:54am IST

Report by
Blaise Fernandes

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23 Dec 2018 05:54am IST

Report by
Blaise Fernandes

About 2018 years ago, in the town of Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem, a great event occurred: the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ! It was an event which was anticipated since the time of Abraham nearly 2000 B.C, whose narrative continues today and drives the anticipation for the ultimate mega event, the second coming of Christ. From the time of Abraham to the later prophets before the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, the meaning of a saviour or messiah was getting clearer, but still remained cryptic to some.

The town of Bethlehem, also known as the “City of David” may at that time, have been nondescript except for the fact that it was a source of fresh water ,being located over an aquifer which produced the best tasting water. It is no mere coincidence then, that Jesus mentions that he is the source of the water of life in John 4:10–26, and who drinks of Him will never thirst.

Being situated in the Judean Hills, sculpted by mainly limestone and sandstone topography in an arid climate, it is not too difficult to imagine the scene that might have been attendant when Christ was born. That scene of holy quietness, after the din of residents returning for the census had died down, is beautifully captured in the most popular carol of all time, Silent Night. It was penned by Joseph Mohr, a young priest at St Nicholas Church, Oberndorfbei Salzburg in Austria. He requested Franz Xavez Gruber, a schoolmaster and organist who lived in a nearby town, to write the music for his six-stanza poem and the great classic was born. Two men sang it for the first time, while Mohr played the guitar and the choir repeated the last two lines of each verse. This happened on 24thDecember 1818 for the Christmas Eve service and it will be exactly 200 years since that first time it was sung and played, this year, 2018, on Christmas Eve!

It was written in German and was called ‘Stille Nacht’ and had the following music and lyrics:

 

Souce: Wikipedia

‘Stille Nacht’

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht

Allesschläft; einsamwacht

Nur das trautehochheiligePaar.

Holder KnabeimlockigenHaar,

Schlaf in himmlischerRuh!

Schlaf in himmlischerRuh!


Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,

Hirtenerstkundgemacht

Durch der Engel Halleluja,

Tönt es laut von fern und nah:

Christ, der Retterist da!

Christ, der Retterist da!


Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,

Gottes Sohn, o wielacht

Lieb’ ausdeinemgöttlichen Mund,

Da unsschlägt die rettende Stund’.

Christ, in deiner Geburt!

Christ, in deiner Geburt!

While most church music was traditionally accompanied by the church organ, this hymn took birth in the strings of a guitar as the church organ was out of order. Some versions say mice were the problem, others rust, but on short notice of a few hours, the guitar accompaniment was written. It is said that Mohr, pondering over the Christmas events in the first chapters of the Gospel of Matthew and Luke, took a walk along a hilly pathway overlooking the alpine village, which transported him to the scene in Bethlehem at the time of our Lord’s birth. He then remembered his poem on the theme and then decided to get it made into a hymn by contacting Gruber. It was such a hit that when the organ was later fixed by organ builder Karl Mauracher, he took the music back to his own village of Kapfing. There, two families of singers, the Strassers and the Rainers popularized it. The Strasser sisters promoted the hymn across northern Europe and even performed Silent Night for King Frederick William IV of Prussia, who ordered his cathedral to perform it every Christmas eve. The Rainers sang the hymn for the first time in the United States of America in 1839 close to New City Trinity Church. 

The English lyrics, well known in Goa, were not translated till another 50 years later, in 1859. It was published by John Freeman Young, an Episcopalian bishop. Jane Campbell, daughter of Rev. A. Montgomery Campbell, born in London in 1817, is also credited in translating the lyrics to English. During WWI in 1914, when the Christmas truce was in force, the song was sung soldiers on both sides in French, English and German. UNESCO has classified Silent Night as a vital cultural treasure and placed it on the list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria, in 2011. A special celebration is held every year on the 24th of December at Oberndorf, Austria to honour Mohr and Gruber and is broadcast. The Salzburg Museum is especially dedicated to this hymn. More information may be found at https://silent-night-museum.org/ andhttps://www.salzburg.info/en/sights/excursions/stille-nacht-museum-oberndorf besides other sources.

Silent Night

Silent night, holy night!

All is calm, all is bright.

Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.

Holy infant so tender and mild,

Sleep in heavenly peace,

Sleep in heavenly peace.


Silent night, holy night!

Shepherds quake at the sight.

Glories stream from heaven afar

Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia,

Christ the Saviour is born!

Christ the Saviour is born


Silent night, holy night!

Son of God love’s pure light.

Radiant beams from Thy holy face

With dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus Lord, at Thy birth

Jesus Lord, at Thy birth

The hymn has been performed extensively and continues to be performed worldwide and Bing Crosby’ version is the third best-selling single of all-time.

Goa being well up to date with literature and music was not far behind when Silent Night was translated into our Mai Bhas Konkani by Fr. Vasco do Rego, SJ, sometime in the 1970’s as Xant Nixa, Xubh Nixa.

Xant Nixa, Xubh Nixa

Xant Nixa, Xubh Nixa

Kallok kitt, soglleak nid,

Mari Zuze kortat pahro,

Dulob Ballok nidla boro

Khaunnechi korunk hatt (2)


Xant nixa, xubh nixa

gonvlliamni dekhlo uzvadd:

sorgavele devdut denvtat

sontosan modhur git gaitat:

Krist Tarok zolmota! (2)

Xant Nixa, Xubh Nixa

Devagelea Puta!

Rupar Tujea mog rosrosta,

kurpechem fanklem fantem

ieun Tum amche modem. (2)

We can notice that the hymn describes not only the manger where Christ was born, but also the nearby mountain sides and the sky above where the angels appeared singing Glory to God as in the carol “Gloria in Excelsis Deo”. At the manger,it was a scene of the faithful gathering in the silence of the night, like in the carol “O come all Ye Faithful” but then erupting in shouts of joy. This is the joy that was to reach all the ends of the earth as typified in the carol “Joy to the World”. Often, we need to silence ourselves from the churnings of pride, jealousy, anger, lust, falsehood etc before we can discover the truth of our life and God. Then we canproclaim with the angels and the faithful, the joy of truth, pure love, kindness and faith! Happy and blessed singing of Silent Night to all, this Christmas season!

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