Oberndorf (Austria), Dec. 23: The carol Silent Night has been re-recorded — adding three “lost” verses and with slight alterations to the music — after purists in Austria, where it was written, demanded a return to its original form.
Silent Night, composed in St Nikolai’s church in Oberndorf, near Salzburg, in 1818 by a local schoolmaster who was also the church organist, is one of the world’s most popular carols. The modern version comprises only the first two and the last of six original verses.
The Silent Night Association, an Austrian-based appreciation society, has now released a CD containing all the words, sung in 15 languages, in time for Christmas. The music differs subtly in two bars but the change is barely noticeable.
The “lost” verses were preserved in a manuscript kept by Oberndorf’s Silent Night museum, but were not included on sheet music on sale to the public until this month.
The carol, with its message of peace, has fans around the world. The Silent Night Association has pledged to promote research into its history and to encourage “awareness and use of authentic versions of the song”.
Franz Xaver Gruber, who composed the tune, is said to have discovered on Christmas Eve 1818 that mice had gnawed through the bellows of the organ on which he was due to accompany the choir for carols that evening.
He was determined not to cancel Christmas Mass, so he took his guitar and, within a couple of hours, came up with the tune to Silent Night, using the words to a poem written a few years earlier by the local curate, Joseph Mohr.
Since that Christmas, the carol has been revised, edited and translated into 320 languages. The original manuscript was lost but a Tyrolean organ maker, Karl Mauracher, who repaired the organ at Oberndorf that Christmas, is credited with spreading the news about the carol. He had the score written down and handed it out to travelling choral groups.
In 1838, an incorrect and simplified version of the already well-established carol was printed. Gruber tried to save his original by publishing the accurate version in 1854, but the simplified carol continued to grow in popularity.
The CD has been produced by Gerhard Eder, who was born in Oberndorf and has been singing the carol for 40 years. He insists that the original version is far superior to the one that will be sung around the world this Christmas.