"Silent Night" for small Austrian village, 190 years later
21 December 2008 - 1:00 a.m. EST
OBERNDORF, Austria, (AFP) - Born on a cold night in the chapel of a small Austrian village, "Silent Night," the most famous Christmas carol in the world, celebrates this year its 190th anniversary.
The song, known as "Stille Nacht" in the original German, was first performed on December 24, 1818, in the tiny hamlet of Oberndorf, as a local assistant priest, Joseph Mohr, sought to comfort his flock, racked by poverty and misery in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars.
"He asked his friend Franz Xaver Gruber, a teacher, to compose the music for six verses he had written two years prior, and they performed the song together at mass with the help of a simple guitar," says Renate Ebeling-Winkler, a historian and expert on the topic.
The song was an immediate success but remained a close-kept secret for many years, until an organ delivery-man from Tyrol took note of it on his way through the village.
It soon became a favourite with Tyrolean singers, travelling up and down the continent in the winter to earn money.
"Admired for its resistance to Napoleon, Tyrol was very popular with allied countries and its best singers, like the Rainer family, were world stars," notes Ebeling-Winkler.
These artists gave "Silent Night" -- which became known as a "popular Tyrolean song" -- worldwide fame, performing it at the royal court in London in 1827, in Moscow in 1831 and in New York in 1839.
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