THE 2OOTH ANNIVERSARY OF SILENT NIGHT
One of the best-known melodies worldwide, it has been called the “song of world peace“. “Silent night, holy night“ is not a folk-song, although it has almost become one. Franz Xaver Gruber (b Hochburg-Ach, 25 December 1787; d Hallein, 7 June 1863), from Upper Austria, worked in the Province of Salzburg as a teacher and musician, composing sacred works in a style somewhere between Classical and Romantic. He set to music the heartfelt poem written by Salzburg priest Joseph Mohr (b Salzburg, 11 December 1792; d Wagrain, 4 December 1848). The song was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 in Oberndorf on the River Salzach, and has become legendary.
This CD celebrates the anniversary in 2018, illustrating in music the story surrounding what is perhaps the loveliest – and certainly most famous – Christmas carol. The recordings were made in the places where Gruber and Mohr worked, where the carol originated, and from where it set out into the wide world. The CD includes not only the original version, but also further pieces composed by Gruber for the Christmas period, seasonal texts by Joseph Mohr, and sacred songs and cantatas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Michael Haydn. In the “Authentic Account“ (1854), Franz Xaver Gruber describes the origin of the carol Silent Night: “It was on the 24th of December 1818, in the recently established parish of St. Nicholas, that the then assistant priest Joseph Mohr handed a poem to the organist Franz Gruber, and asked him to set it to music for 2 solo voices with guitar accompaniment.“ Mohr, from a working-class Salzburg family, had a strong social commitment. He was a good guitarist and had a fine tenor voice. The composer, son of an Upper Austrian linen-weaver, worked as teacher and choirmaster in the Province of Salzburg. Mohr had already written the poem in 1816, when he was in Mariapfarr in the Lungau region. The song performed for the first time on Christmas Eve 1818, by Mohr with guitar and Gruber singing bass, was to become one of the most successful songs in the history of music.
Carl Mauracher, who shortly afterwards rebuilt the organ, took the song into the Zillertal in Tyrol, which still belongs in part to the archdiocese of Salzburg. It was probably soon sung there, in the small town of Fügen. Zillertal folk-singers made it famous in the Old World, and soon also in the New – in many versions. Gruber himself wrote several settings, but the substance remains the important thing. It is a simple lullaby, in a measured siciliana rhythm associated with gentleness and serene melancholy. In Baroque and Classical music it was often used for pastoral idylls – not only sacred, but also very secular. From his everyday work in the churches of Arnsdorf and Oberndorf, Gruber was certainly familiar with siciliana movements in sacred music, and probably even in works by J.S.Bach, Mozart and both Haydn brothers. There are plenty of examples, but the unity of text and music is the work of Mohr and Gruber. The text (which lends itself to translation) is in German, the melody is – in the best sense – folkish, the rhythm comes from the bagpipes of Sicilian shepherds. Even atheists or people who belong to other religions cannot escape the charm of this intimate composition. This is because it reflects the power of the Christmas story in simple words and motifs; because the music sounds not triumphant, but moving. Some people are even moved to tears – which may be an effect of the melancholy suggested by the rhythm. In others it elicits a smile of happiness, or even a smile through tears. The song is not austere and liturgical; it is a love-song for a newborn child. It is a song of peace, full of musical spirituality, transcending borders. And it is timeless; it belongs to all people of good-will, the world over. Gottfried Franz Kasparek Translation: Gail Schamberger
Julia Arsentjeva, Simone Vierlinger*, Sopran · Magdalena Rüker, Mezzosopran · Martin Mitterrutzner, Tenor · Rafael Fingerlos, Bariton · Jugendkantorei am Salzburger Dom, Gerrit Stadlbauer, Chorlleitung Alexander Fussek, Sprecher · Julia Ammerer, Matthias Michael Beckmann, Cello · Sabine Kraus, Harfe Christina Schorn-Mancinelli, Gitarre · Pater Virgil Steindlmüller OSB, Alexander Steinbacher, Orgel Mozart Quartett Salzburg · Orchester der Salzburger Dommusik, Domkapellmeister János Czifra