The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Authentic Occasion for the Composition of the Christmas Carol “Silent Night, Holy Night!”

Franz Gruber, December 30, 1854

It was on the 24th of December of the year 1818 when Joseph Mohr, at that time the assistant priest of the newly established St. Nicola parish in Oberndorf, gave some lyrics to the substitute organist, Franz Gruber (at the time also the teacher in Arnsdorf), requesting a suitable melody for 2 soloists with choir and for guitar accompaniment be written.

On the evening of the same day the latter, as requested, gave the musically talented priest his simple composition, which was then played on Christmas Eve and enthusiastically received. Josef Mohr, the lyricist of this carol and many other hymns, died on the 4th of December, 1848, the worthy vicar of Wagrain in Pongau.

Franz Gruber, presently choir director and organist of the Hallein city parish, born the third son of a poor linen-weaver in Hochburg in 1787, foregoing the weaver's stool, came under the tutorage of H. Georg Hartdobler, organist of the parish of Burghausen, and after only three months'' lessons, could play the bass on the organ there during the High Masses.

In 1806 he received special training in education and a year later was assigned as teacher and sacristan in the subordinate Arnsdorf school. In 1816 when the suburb Oberndorf was separated from the city of Laufen, as a result of territorial adjustments, Gruber, with permission of his superiors, took care (for want of a more qualified person) of the choir and organ in St. Nicola parish, Oberndorf, until 1829, when he went to the Bernsdorf teaching post. In 1833 he was tendered the vacant choir director and organist position of the Hallein city parish, which he then received upon application. Of his 12 legitimate children, 2 sons and 2 daughters – all musically educated – are still living. The older son, who is employed in the Imperial Royal Central School in Hallein, has already turned out several successful compositions. Since the Christmas carol was carried to Tirol by a resident of the Ziller valley, and, in somewhat modified form, from there to Leipzig as part of a repertory, the writer has the honor to include a copy identical to the original.

Hallein, the 30th of December, 1854

Franz Gruber m. p.
Pastor, Choir Director
and Organist

Note: This history was repeated in a letter by the son of Franz Gruber to the editor of the Salzburger Chronik, dated October 6, 1873.

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