Stille Nacht - Silent Night

Lyrics, History and Interpretations

Silent Night
"Silent Night" ('Stille Nacht Heilige Nacht') was heard for the first time in the St. Nicholas church of Oberndorf. Johannes Simon / Bongarts / Getty Images)

It was Dec. 24th ,1818 in a small Austrian village called Oberndorf, just hours before Christmas mass and pastor Joseph Mohr was in a bind. His musical plans for the evening church service were ruined since the organ of his church (St. Nicholas Kirche) had broken down recently due to a recent flooding of the nearby river. What could he do? In a moment of inspiration, he grabbed a Christmas poem he had written two years earlier and quickly set off to the neighboring village, where his friend Franz Gruber, the church organist, lived.



It is believed that Franz Gruber was able to produce on that night in just a few short hours, the first version of the world renowned Christmas hymn “Stille Nacht”, written as a guitar accompaniment. The song that we sing today is slightly different from the original version - it is believed that folk singer and choir groups altered the original melody slightly as they performed the carol throughout Europe in the ensuing decades. (See Stille Nacht complete with an English translation for the original Stille Nacht version.). The English version we know today was written by the Episcopal priest John Freeman Young, however, the standard English version contains just three verses, whereas the German version contains six. (only verses 1, 6 and 2 from the original Joseph Mohr version are sung in English.)

There is an interesting binaural version of this song. You will hear the English text in your left ear and simultaneously the German text in your right ear.

Get your headphones and give it a minute to get used to this new approach. 

There is also a version sung by Nina Hagen, an opera prodigy, rather known as the mother of punk. But fear not, it is actually sweet to listen to.


German

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb' aus deinem göttlichen Mund
, Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund'.
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Christ, in deiner Geburt!



Words: Joseph Mohr, 1816
Music: Franz Xaver Gruber, 1818

English

Silent night, holy night
All is calm all is bright
'Round yon virgin Mother and Child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heav'nly hosts sing Alleluia;
Christ the Savior is born
Christ the Savior is born

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love's pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth