By THE ENTHUSIAST
All In A Day’s Work
The music for "Silent Night" was composed in a single night, Christmas Eve 1818 – the night before a midnight mass at the church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, Austria. It was composed not on organ but guitar, a curiosity which has given rise to any number of apocryphal legends – that the organ had been damaged by a flood, that mice had chewed holes in the bellows, that the Winter Warlock chased Yukon Cornelius across the keyboard – but at the end of the day it simply seems that composer Franz Gruber had a guitar at hand when Josef Mohr, a curate at the church, asked him to set a poem he’d written to music in time for the aforementioned mass. And do you know what? He did. Mohr played the score his friend had written as the two of them sang the song for the congregation for the first time that night.
You Better Watch Out
Writing for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Radio on the 200th anniversary of the song’s composition in 2018, Jennifer Van Evra noted that “In the Austrian alps, there is a strict rule that it must only be performed on Christmas Eve. If it's performed at other times, Bavarian children are told, someone will die.” This Dr. Evil approach to "Silent Night" seems a wee bit unlikely, but when it comes to Christmas carols, The Enthusiast follows the advice of the newspaper editor in the closing scene of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
If You’re Going To New York City, You’ve Got To See Hamilton
Two Austrian singing families went on to popularize "Silent Night" outside Austria. The Rainer and Strasse families performed the song throughout Europe, and in 1839 the Rainer family introduced the song to the United States when they performed it in front of the Alexander Hamilton monument at Trinity Church.
30 Million Bing Fans Can’t Be Wrong
The Enthusiast noted previously that Bing Crosby’s 1942 recording of "White Christmas" is the best-selling single of all time. Lest the reader fear that Bing was previously having trouble keeping the wolf from the door, it’s worth noting that his recording of "Silent Night" was the best-selling single of the 1930s. Sure, it only sold a relatively paltry 30 million copies. But still.
How would you like to be remembered once you’ve shuffled this mortal – nay, in the spirit of the holidays, this merry – coil, dear reader? The Enthusiast only asks because the fate of lyricist Josef Mohr may be the answer that has to date eluded you. In 1912 sculptor and pastor Joseph Mühlbacher had Father Mohr’s skeleton exhumed, lifted the skull from his coffin, and transported it to the new Silent Night Memorial Chapel, where it was walled into the building. Surely shepherds quaked at the sight.
Number sixteen in a series.
16 December 2020
The Enthusiast (email@example.com) is the pen name of critic Michael Collins. He reports back only on what’s good, never what’s bad. He is currently imbued with the holiday spirit.