Posted by: rcottrill | December 11, 2010

Today in 1792 – Joseph Mohr Born

The story of the writing of the lovely Christmas hymn Silent Night is better known than most. Pastor Joseph Mohr wrote the words, and his church organist Franz Gruber composed the tune. The song was written on Christmas Eve morning, and shared with the congregation at a service that evening. But there is some confusion regarding the way the song was shared with the world.

Some accounts of our hymn’s origin speak of a breakdown of the church organ, making it necessary for Gruber to accompany the song with guitar that evening. But the organ malfunction did not likely happen until a year or two after the song was written. It was, however, the organ repairman Fritz Mauracher, who came from over the mountains, heard the song, and shared it with the outside world.

In Mauracher’s home town lived the Strasser family, who manufactured fine leather gloves. They had trained their children to sing in front of their booth at fairs and festivals, in order to drum up sales. It was the Strasser Sisters Quartet that soon spread the song to town after town. At first, it did not even have a name, but was known simply as a Tiroler Volkslied (a Tyrolean Folk Song). It was published in a German hymnal under the heading, “A Hymn of Unknown Origin.” Now we know it in English as Silent Night. The German original begins:

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

The familiar translation of the opening stanza reads:

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.

A quick check shows that Silent Night has been recorded by just about everybody! (And I’m convinced some of them should not have bothered!) But here are two renditions to check out, the first in the original German by the St. Thomas Boys’ Choir, the second in English by the men’s quartet known as G4.

(2) Today in 1845 – The Present Crisis published
James Russell Lowell was a prominent American poet, author, and lawyer. He became Professor of Modern Languages and Literature at Harvard University, edited some prominent journals, and later in his life served as American minister to Spain, and ambassador to England.

In the Boston Courier, Lowell published a long poem called The Present Crisis, protesting America’s war with Mexico. Garrett Horder took some lines from the poem, and arranged them in the form of a hymn. The result was published in 1896. The hymn does not contain much in the way of biblical teaching, but it does emphasize our personal responsibility, as citizens, for the welfare of the country in which we live.

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.

Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.


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