top of page
  • Writer's pictureDeborah Kade

Christmas Eve in Interlaken, Switzerland

Updated: Oct 14, 2019

We spent the morning visiting with Frau Rose Meier whom turned 99 at the beginning of the month. We finally met Gabby and her sister's daughter from Zürich. Frau Meier is one amazing woman!!! She has a few aches and pains but she is still able to bend over and touch her toes. She even showed us some flexibly exercises she does.

We shared some Christmas schnapps which she says is great for the liver. Michael and I hilariously laughed as we got drunk at ten in the morning.

Frau Meier is disappointed we don't have time to come over in the next few days for tea and dessert but she said she will look forward to us coming back in September and visiting her. She is very special to us.

The rain finally stopped by 3:00 PM. Snow levels have dropped. Can see the fresh snow popping out from behind the fog and clouds. Once the rain stopped, the Springlike temperatures dropped, too.

Michael and I had our dinner here at the Beau Rivage. They were serving a special Christmas Eve four course meal. We started with champagne. We also had a bottle of Spiezer from the Spiezer Winery in Spiez. Try saying that three times! I think I may have room in my luggage to take a bottle home with us, too.

The salad:

Greens with fresh Canadian salmon. Fried sliced ginger as a garnish.

The soup:

Pureed chestnut with bread stick croutons. Quite unique and oh so tasty!

The main:

Potato gratin, beef tenderloin and mixed vegetables

The dessert:

Blood orange layered mousse and cake. Blood orange sorbet.

Tonight is the 200th anniversary of the song Silent Night.

1818 - 2018 "Silent Night! Holy Night!" had its world premiere on Christmas Eve in the St. Nicholas church of Oberndorf near Salzburg, Austria performed by Franz Xaver Gruber and Joseph Mohr.

"It was the 24th of December of the year 1818, when the then assistant priest Joseph Mohr at the newly established parish of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf handed over to the organist represented by Franz Gruber (who at the time was also school teacher in Arnsdorf) a poem, with the request to write a fitting melody for two solo voices together with choir and for accompaniment by guitar." These are the words of Franz Xaver Gruber which he wrote on December 30, 1854 in his "Authentic Account of the Origin of the Christmas Carol, 'Silent Night, Holy Night!'" Later the same day, on the 24th of December, Gruber came to the musically talented Mohr and handed over to him his composition. As Mohr liked what he saw, this song was included in the Christmas mass that evening. Mohr sang the tenor part and provided accompaniment with guitar, while Gruber sang bass. According to Gruber, the song was met with "general approval by all" in attendance (mostly shipping laborers, boat builders and their families). In Gruber's "Authentic Account," there is no mention of the specific inspiration for creating the song. One supposition is that the church organ was no longer working, so that Mohr and Gruber therefore created a song for accompaniment by guitar. Surrounding this premiere performance of "Silent Night!" many romantic stories and legends have been written adding their own anecdotal details to the known facts.

We now know that Mohr created the text to the song already in 1816 during the time he served as an assistant priest in Mariapfarr in Lungau. The score autographed by Mohr which was discovered in 1995 - the only extant one autographed by Mohr - attests to the date of creation for the text. In the lower left is written: "Text von Joseph Mohr mpia Coadjutor 1816" ("Text by Joseph Mohr - confirmed by my own signature - assistant priest 1816"). After careful study by historians, it is estimated that this autograph was written between 1820 and 1825, while the "1816" after Mohr's name is believed to refer to the year in which Mohr created the text. This autographed score also provides a key statement in the upper right: "Melodie von Fr. Xav. Gruber" ("Melody by Fr. Xav. Gruber") and therewith clarifies conclusively the question many have asked over the years as to which man actually composed the melody to the song.

Silent Night!" was created and first performed during very difficult times. The Napoleonic wars (1792-1815), which had caused great suffering, had come to an end. With the Congress of Vienna there were new borders and a new order set for Europe. In the course of these events, the ecclesiastical Principality of Salzburg lost its status as an independent country and was forced to secularize. In 1816, its lands were divided in two with part assigned to Bavaria and the larger portion relegated to Austria.

The site where "Silent Night!" was first performed - Oberndorf by Salzburg in Austria - had been a suburb and was now separated from its town center of Laufen located across the river (today part of Bavaria, Germany) when the Salzach River became the new border. For centuries transportation of salt along the river had provided the basis for the local economy. The salt trade declined during the Napoleonic wars, and then never fully recovered. This caused a depression in the local economy, with the transport companies, boat builders and laborers facing unemployment and an unsure future. It was during these troubled times that Mohr was in Oberndorf (1817-1819).

Mohr's previous place of service, Mariapfarr, had suffered greatly during the withdrawal of the Bavarian occupation troops in 1816 and 1817. Mohr was witness to these events and in 1816, he wrote the words to "Silent Night!" With this in mind, the creation of the 4th verse of "Silent Night!" takes on special meaning. Its text expresses a great longing for peace and comfort.

The song was almost lost forever after its first performance in a church in Oberndorf (near Salzburg) to Gruber’s guitar accompaniment.

The first known performance of “Stille Nacht” in the United States took place near New York City’s Trinity Church. In 1839, the Rainer family singers of Austria included the German version of “Stille Nacht” in their repertoire during an appearance at the Alexander Hamilton Monument near the church, some 24 years before an English version of the carol would be published.

Today’s most popular English version of “Silent Night” was translated by the Episcopal priest John Freeman Young, assigned at the time to the same Trinity Church associated with the 1839 performance of “Stille Nacht.” Reverend Young apparently enjoyed translating European hymns and carols into English, and it is his 1863 “Silent Night” text that is found today in most hymnals and Christmas carol collections published in the English-speaking world.

The original Franz Gruber melody has also been altered slightly, probably during the time when it was being performed in Austria and Bavaria during the 19th century.

A Christmas Carol Goes Around the World But the familiar melody we recognize today as “Silent Night” or “Stille Nacht” is not quite the same one that Franz Gruber composed, and although the song was not truly “lost” or “forgotten” — as legend would have it — the world-famous carol did take many years to become as well known and as ubiquitous as it is today. In the intervening years Joseph Mohr is known to have written a “Stille Nacht” arrangement around 1820, and new hand-written arrangements by Franz Gruber appeared before his death — one for a full orchestra in 1845, and another for organ in 1855. By 1900 “Stille Nacht” had made its way around the entire globe. But we should start at the beginning.

On a cold Christmas Eve in 1818 pastor Joseph Franz Mohr (1792-1848) walked the three kilometers from his home in the Austrian village of Oberndorf bei Salzburg to visit his friend Franz Xaver Gruber (1787-1863) in the neighboring town of Arnsdorf bei Laufen. Mohr brought with him a poem he had written some two years earlier. He desperately needed a carol for the Christmas Eve midnight mass that was only hours away. He hoped his friend, a school teacher who also served as the church’s choir master and organist, could set his poem to music. One of the many amazing things about this carol is that Franz Gruber composed the “Stille Nacht” melody for Mohr in just a few hours on that December 24, 1818.

Recent flooding of the nearby Salzach river had put the church organ out of commission, so Gruber composed the music for guitar accompaniment. A few hours after Gruber finished his composition, he and Mohr stood before the altar of the St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf to perform their own work. A local choir group backed them up as the sounds of the brand new carol broke the silence of that “Stille Nacht.”

Because flooding had damaged its foundation, the St. Nicholas Church was demolished in the early 1900s. The Salzach River (which also flows through nearby Salzburg), has a tendency to flood. For this reason, the entire town of Oberndorf was relocated to a less flood-prone location some 800 meters upstream in the 1920s. Around the same time, a new parish church was constructed, and a small memorial chapel, the Stille-Nacht-Gedächtniskapelle, replaced the original Nicola-Kirche.

For many years in the latter half of the 19th century, when the carol was beginning to become more popular, people who knew anything about “Stille Nacht” assumed the melody must have been composed by a more famous composer, possibly Beethoven, Haydn, or even Mozart. Although Gruber had made a written claim as the composer prior to his death in 1863, doubts lingered on into the 20th century. The question was officially settled only several years ago when an arrangement of “Stille Nacht” in Joseph Mohr’s hand was authenticated. In the upper right-hand corner of the arrangement Mohr had written the words, “Melodie von Fr. Xav. Gruber.”

“Stille Nacht’” – The Song Around 1832, when Gruber’s melody was performed by folk singers from Austria’s Ziller Valley (Zillertal), several musical notes were altered, and the “Silent Night” melody became what we know today.

In Austria “Stille Nacht” is considered a national treasure. Traditionally the song may not be played publicly before Christmas Eve, and any commercial use of the carol is forbidden. Contrast that with the situation in most other countries, where you are likely to hear “Silent Night” playing in the local shopping mall or even as part of a radio or TV commercial.

Nevertheless, “Silent Night” enjoys a revered position among Christmas carols all over the world, no matter what it may be called or in which language it may be performed.

Franz Gruber was born on November 25, 1787 in the Austrian town of Hochburg. He became a teacher and later moved to Arnsdorf. The rooms where he lived and worked can still be seen on the second floor of the Arnsdorf schoolhouse. But Gruber obviously did not spend all his time composing music. He fathered a dozen children by three different wives. In 1839, the Gruber family left Arnsdorf for Hallein, just south of Salzburg. His grave now lies next to the family’s former home there and is adorned with a Christmas tree each December.

Joseph Franz Mohr was born an illegitimate child on December 11,1792 in Salzburg, Austria. He became a Catholic priest in August 1815 (only after receiving the special papal dispensation then required for illegitimate persons entering the priesthood). Mohr’s final resting place is in the tiny Alpine ski resort of Wagrain where he died penniless in 1848. He donated his modest earthly fortune for the education of the children in the community. Today the Joseph Mohr School stands as a fitting memorial—only yards away from the grave of the man who wrote the words heard round the world.

The first known performance of “Stille Nacht” in the United States took place near New York City’s Trinity Church. In 1839 the Rainer family singers of Austria included the German version of “Stille Nacht” in their repertoire during an appearance at the Alexander Hamilton Monument near the church, some 24 years before an English version of the carol would be published.

The “Silent Night” translation that we sing today in English first appeared in 1863—the year of Franz Gruber’s death, and some 45 years after the song’s initial performance in Austria. The English-language author was unknown until 1959, when it was determined to have been the Episcopal priest John Freeman Young, assigned at the time of his work to the same Trinity Church associated with the 1839 performance of “Stille Nacht.” Reverend Young apparently enjoyed translating European hymns and carols into English, and it is his 135-year-old “Silent Night” text that is found today in most hymnals and Christmas carol collections published in the English-speaking world.

Additional history and information

"The story of Silent Night begins in the beautiful city of Salzburg, Austria. In the splendor of that baroque city ruled by the Prince Archbishop, a simple weaver named Anna lived. Anna, alone in this world, was of very modest means with little hope of raising her lifestyle or even marrying. One day she fell in love with a soldier, stationed in Salzburg. In a fling, she and the soldier conceived a child, who was born on December 11, 1792. However, he took no responsibility for his child, and left Anna and the baby to fend for themselves. Nevertheless, Anna gave the soldier’s surname to her baby, whom she named Joseph Mohr. Being an unwed mother with a bastard child, Anna knew the scorn and rejection of society. She finally asked the city hangman to be the godparent to her baby Joseph.

Anna provided as best she could for Joseph and realized that a good education would give him the hope of a good future. The local parish priest recognized his brightness and his singing ability. He arranged for Joseph to attend the famous abbey school of Kremsmunster. There, young Joseph excelled in his studies. He later realized he had a vocation to the priesthood and entered the seminary at the age of 16. Finally, when he was ready for ordination at the age of 22, Joseph needed a special dispensation since he had no father.

Joseph Mohr was assigned as the assistant pastor at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, about 10 miles northwest of Salzburg on the River Salzach. (The church of St. Nicholas was destroyed by flooding in 1899, but a memorial chapel stands there today.) The parish was of very modest means, and the pastor was strict and frugal to say the least.

Here Father Mohr became friends with Franz Gruber. Gruber was the son of a weaver, who had little appreciation for music. Franz was expected to follow in the trade of his father. Despite his father’s disapproval, Franz began playing the guitar and the organ. The parish priest allowed Franz even to practice in Church. His talents too were recognized, and he was sent to school for formal music training. He eventually settled in the town of Oberndorf, working as a music teacher and raising his family of 12 children. Mohr and Gruber shared their love of music, and both played the guitar.

On December 23, 1818, with Christmas fast approaching, Mohr went to visit a mother and her new born child. On the way back to the Rectory, he paused by the river and meditated on the first Christmas. He wrote a poem capturing the essence of that great faith event, and called it Silent Night, Holy Night. In his composition, he captured the ineffable mystery of the incarnation and birth of our Lord: The holy infant Jesus, who is Christ the Savior, Son of God, and Love’s pure light, was born of Mary and filled the world with the redeeming grace from Heaven.

Upon his return to the parish, he was confronted with the news that the organ was broken. Voracious mice had eaten through the bellows, disabling the wind system necessary for the pipes to produce music. Being so close to Christmas and without sufficient funds to consider repairing the organ, the people feared that Midnight Mass would be silent. Father Mohr rushed to the home of his friend, Franz Gruber, and shared his plight. He handed Gruber the poem, and asked him to write a melody for it to be played on the guitar. Franz Gruber completed the task in time. At Midnight Mass, 1818, the world heard for the first time the simple yet profound song we know as Silent Night.

The song was well received, and quickly spread throughout Austria, oftentimes being called simply A Tyrolean Carol. Frederick Wilhelm IV , King of Prussia, heard Silent Night at the Berlin Imperial Church and ordered it to be sung throughout the kingdom at Christmas pageants and services. Ironically, the music gained fame without any attribution to its composers. Some thought Michael Haydn, the brother of the famous composer Franz Joseph Haydn, wrote the piece. Frederick Wilhelm, thereby, ordered a search.

One day, the king’s agents arrived at St. Peter’s monastery in Salzburg, inquiring about the composers of Silent Night. Felix, the son of Franz Gruber, who was a student there, approached them and told them the story behind Silent Night and directed them to his father, who was now the choir master of another parish. From that time on, both Mohr and Gruber were credited with Silent Night.

Father Joseph Mohr died at the age of 56 of tuberculosis on December 4, 1848. Gruber died at the age of 76.

Our English translation is attributed to Jane Campbell in 1863, and was carried to America in 1871, appearing in Charles Hutchins Sunday School Hymnal."

Literal translation

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht! Silent night, holy night

Alles schläft, einsam wacht everyone sleeps; alone watches

Nur das traute heilige Paaronly the beloved, holy couple

Holder Knab im lockigen Haar, blessed boy in curly hair,

Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh! sleep in heavenly peace

Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh! sleep in heavenly peace.

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!

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, Heavenly 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.

Michael and I went to the church around the corner for the 11:00 PM Christmas Eve mass. I wish we had taken a phone to take pictures. The outside of the church is not modern looking but the inside is.

The wood ceiling is a 6 pointed vaulted star. Quite lovely! Gorgeous wood!! Flickering candles were everywhere. I would say there was a 30 foot Christmas tree off to one side by the altar. The only decorations on the tree were white candles; not bulbs. A man had to climb a ladder in order to light them with a long pole. So beautiful, though!

In front of the altar in a semicircle were wooden 5 pointed stars in varying sizes. I counted 16 placed at different levels but there may have been more I could not see from where I was sitting. In the middle, a manger was placed.

There were two floral displays of red roses and delicate white flowers that were not baby's breath but resembled it. One was placed on the side of the altar and one was in front of the lectern.

They had someone play the alpen horn. It was both beautiful but haunting. The sound echoed around the interior of the church like the church bells echo off the mountains when they are rung every evening at 8 PM.

Michael understood the whole mass as the speakers spoke high German and they talked slowly. He even sang some of the carols.

Michael was surprised they said Holy Ghost instead of Holy Spirit during the mass.

The priest mentioned this was the 200 year anniversary of Silent Night. He played the guitar just like that first time. The organ joined in the last verse. All the lights were turned off. We only had light from the flickering candles. Beautiful stillness and peace......


174 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page