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Happy Christmas from Breakfast Bytes. It's Christmas Eve 2018, and 200 years ago today, Christmas Eve 1818, was the first performance of Silent Night, although since this was Oberndorf, Austria, it was in German, Stille Nacht.
You may know the story. The church organist discovers that the organ bellows have been destroyed by mice, so there will be no organ for the Christmas Eve service. So he dashes off a quick carol to be sung accompanied by a guitar, and it is an instant hit. Indeed, Bing Crosby's 1935 version is the 3rd best-selling single of all time. There's something about Bing and Christmas music since White Christmas is still the number 1 best selling single of all time. Between them is Elton John's version of Candle in the Wind from Princess Diana's funeral. Fourth is Rock Around the Clock.
Actually, almost none of that story is true. For a start, the lyrics and the music were not created by the same person. The lyrics were created a couple of years earlier where the parish priest, Joseph Mohr, in Oberndorf had had his previous job. The melody was by Franz Xaver Gruber, who was an organist, but in a nearby village. But the part about the organ being damaged is true, although by flooding, not church mice. So Mohr got Gruber to put together a melody and guitar accompaniment to be used that night.
Surprisingly, some of the true story only came to light in 1995. Until then it was assumed that Gruber wrote the words too. But the (or at least an old) original manuscript of the carol was discovered in 1995, in Mohr's handwriting.
Here's a fact you probably don't know. The original lyrics (in German) have six verses. In English, only the first, second, and sixth were translated, by John Freeman Young of Trinity Church in New York. Those are the words sung today in the English-speaking world. The other verses are more to do with the end of the Napoleonic Wars, and not the nativity.
That church didn't seem to be very well sited, since it was eventually destroyed by flooding. Now there is the Silent Night Chapel on the spot, I've never visited, but from the picture there are a lot of steps in front of the chapel, presumably to keep it out of floodwater. Or perhaps the river has been controlled by other means.
A famous performance was by the German and British troops on Christmas Eve 1914, although performance is probably not the right word. One tune, two sets of lyrics. They then famously came out of the trenches and exchanged gifts that first Christmas Eve of the First World War.
Wikipedia tells me that Silent Night has been an Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2011, which seems to mean that it is like a Unesco Heritage Site but you can't visit it. Luckily, too, you can't do much to stop it being passed through the generations if people want to, unlike Palmyra in Syria, or Buddhas of Bamiyan. People will still be singing Silent Night for a long time.
Silent night, holy night!All is calm, all is brightRound yon Virgin, Mother and ChildHoly Infant so tender and mildSleep in heavenly peaceSleep in heavenly peace
Breakfast Bytes will be back on January 2nd with another anniversary, it is the 150th anniversary of The Periodic Table of the Elements, something of more significance to semiconductors.
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