A story for
Themes: Christmas, celebrating a favourite Christmas carol.
Synopsis: A young boy settles down with his grandfather to listen to a story...about the meeting of two men in an Austrian village in 1816.
Father Joseph Mohr was the priest at St Nicholas church in the village of Obendorf. His friend, Franz Gruber, was a school teacher and played the organ at the church on Sundays. Father Joseph had written a short poem about the birth of baby Jesus, but put it aside and thought no more about it for two years.
Then one day he approached Franz with the idea of setting the poem to music by giving it a simple guitar accompaniment. Franz set to work and the melody he composed fitted the words perfectly. Their creation was to become perhaps the best-known and most-loved of all Christmas carols.
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‘Grandpa! The fire’s almost gone out!’
‘I know, I know. Let me put a couple of logs on and then I’ll sit down. That’s better, that’ll keep us warm this night. There go the church bells and that means it’s your bedtime.’
‘Oh, Grandpa, tell me a bedtime story. Then I’ll go to bed, promise.’
‘Well now, what story shall I tell?’
‘A Christmas story, because it’s almost Christmas.’
‘In that case, I’ll tell you the story of how the ‘Silent Night’ Christmas carol came to be.’
‘Is it a magical story?’
‘I think so. You see, the story begins right here in Oberndorf. A long time ago, in a village in Austria...’
‘Called Oberndorf, there lived a poor priest whose name was Father Joseph, and his friend, a school teacher...’
‘What was the school teacher’s name?’
‘He was called Franz. Well now, Joseph and Franz were busy people. Joseph worked as a priest in Saint Nicholas Church, and he also sang and played the guitar. Franz the schoolteacher was a caretaker at the church, and he played the organ there on Sundays. Now Joseph had written a little poem about the birth of baby Jesus and he had called it ‘Silent Night’. We don’t know how he came to write it. Perhaps he’d been out walking on a night like this, when it’s very quiet, no birds singing, and the dark sky full with stars and the moon hanging like a big bright jewel...’
‘And snow, snow everywhere!’
‘Yes! And it’s possible, as he trudged along, a kind of magic flowed from the stars and the snow and the words came into his mind.’
Stille nacht, heilige nacht.
Alles schlaft, einsam wacht.
‘When Joseph had written down his Christmas poem, he put it aside and forgot about it until two years later when suddenly he thought how wonderful it would be if his poem could be put to music.’
‘So he went to his friend Franz, the school teacher!’
‘Yes, it was Christmas Eve and Joseph asked Franz if he would write some music to go with his words. At first, Franz wasn’t too sure. You see he was an organist and he loved organ music, but Joseph had asked for a simple guitar accompaniment. After a while, Franz sat down with an ink pot and pen and a sheath of blank paper and began to scratch out a melody. Franz worked all day and made Joseph a very beautiful present – the best Christmas present he ever gave – a piece of music that fitted the poem as perfectly as a slipper on a foot...’
‘Or a warm mitten on a hand.’
‘That’s right! The words and the music were inseparable. They became one.’
‘When was the carol performed, Grandpa?’
‘ ‘Silent Night’ was performed that very evening at Midnight Mass at Saint Nicholas Church. Can you imagine, the hush of the church, the flicker of the candles and then the very gentle music echoing round the stone walls?’
‘Grandpa I can! And did Franz get to play the organ?’
‘No, Joseph played his guitar and sang the words and the choir joined in on the last two lines, like this:
Christ the saviour is born, Christ the saviour is born.’
‘People must’ve liked it, because it’s sung everywhere now, in churches all over the world.’
‘Yes, that Christmas carol has spread from person to person, village to town, town to city, city to nation.’
‘Did Joseph and Franz become rich and famous?’
‘No! Not at all! They didn’t do it to become rich and famous. Soon after, Joseph moved to another church and then another. At the end of his life, perhaps remembering his old friend Franz and the present he had given him, Joseph helped set up a school for children. He was a very good man.’
‘And what happened to Franz?’
‘Franz carried on teaching and playing the church organ and writing lots of music but none was as memorable as ‘Silent Night.’ He married and had children and then his children had children. Right, it’s time for you to go to bed and, like the words of the carol: ‘Sleep in heavenly peace.’
‘Sleep in heavenly peace!’
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