Silent Night, Holy Night
A song conquers the world from Zillertal!
Every year, people around the world sing the soothing Christmas classic "Silent Night". Without the great help of musical families from Zillertal, the story of what’s possibly the world’s most famous song would have been a very different one though.
In 1819, the widely known Zillertal organ builder Karl Mauracher travelled to Oberndorf bei Salzburg to conduct a repair. While there, he stumbled upon the lyrics and sheet music for the carol "Silent Night" by Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber and took a copy back to Fügen with him. After studying and performing the song with the church choir, the Zillertal musical dynasties Rainer and Strasser incorporated it into their repertoires at the start of the 19th century and took it from Zillertal to Europe and the world. In their colourful folk costumes, they performed Tirolean songs in squares and on global stages from Paris to London and St. Petersburg.
- The first ever performance was in Oberndorf bei Salzburg in 1818.
- Lyrics: Joseph Mohr; guitar accompaniment: Franz Xaver Gruber
- The first performance outside Salzburg was in Fügen parish church in 1819.
- Musical families from Zillertal took the song from Fügen out into the world. The most famous of these were the Rainer and Strasser families.
- The carol originally had six verses rather than just the three usually sung today. Even now, this original version is still sung at Christmas mass in Fügen.
- Today "Silent Night" is sung in hundreds of languages, including several regional African ones. Several films tell the story of where the eternal, immortal carol began.
- An old Zillertal custom – the song is specially for Christmas and may only be sung on or after Christmas Eve.
The “Silent Night” Places in Tirol
An organ builder from Tirol brought “Silent Night!” from Oberndorf near Salzburg to Fügen in Tirol’s Zillertal Valley. It is astonishing that at a time when novelties spread only very slowly “Silent Night, Holy Night” found its way out of the remote Zillertal Valley and to the far reaches of the globe as quickly as it did. In those days, Tirol was home to a number of merchant families who also gave concerts while on their travels. The Strasser Siblings from Hippach and the Rainer Family Singers from Fügen were chiefly responsible for spreading the song throughout Europe, Russia and the Unites States of America.
Fügen: The Home of Organ Builder Carl Mauracher and the Original Rainer Family Singers
Sometime after the first performance of the Christmas carol, organ builder Carl Mauracher from Fügen travelled to Oberndorf to fix the organ at Saint Nikola Church. This is where he got to know Franz Xaver Gruber and the song “Silent Night! Holy Night!”. The unique quality of the Christmas carol immediately attracted his attention. He took it back to his hometown in Zillertal Valley, where within a very short time it had won the hearts of all who heard it. The song was soon later adopted by two family singing groups from Zillertal Valley, the Rainers and the Strassers.
The Rainer Family Singers hailed from Fügen and ultimately transformed into a nationwide sensation. In 1822, the Rainer Singers sang “Silent Night!” in a concert at the Fügen Castle of Count Ludwig von Dönhoff (1769–1838). The count had invited siblings Maria, Felix, Franz and Joseph Rainer to entertain his honourable guests, Emperor Franz I of Austria and Tsar Alexander I of Russia. The emperors were amazed at their abilities and the Tsar even invited them to Russia. Henceforth, the Rainer siblings left their home and from 1824 to 1839 toured through Europe to expose their unique sound as the ‘Tyrolese Minstrels’. They were an international sensation, singing for the nobility of several countries. Their pure, natural sound was especially appreciated in London, where they were invited to sing for King George IV of England. Today, Fügen is the largest village in Zillertal Valley with a population of more than 4,000.
The “Silent Night! Holy Night!” Experience:
- A Rainer Family Singers memorial, the grave of Dönhoff Family and a grave inscription of Carl Mauracher can be admired at the Cemetery of the Parish Church in Fügen. A memorial plaque commemorates the visit of Tsar Alexander I of Russia and Emperor Franz I of Austria to Fügen.
- The Local Heritage Museum at Widumspfiste chronicles the enticing story of “Silent Night, Holy Night”, the world’s most famous Christmas carol. Visitors can retrace how “Silent Night” was developed and spread across Europe and the whole world. The museum is home to the world’s largest collection of “Silent Night” records and celebrates the Rainer Family Singers and organ builder Carl Mauracher. Moreover, the worthwhile collection introduces visitors to old crafts and the history of mining in Fügen. Pride of place is given to a 19th century Alpine zither, a popular folk music instrument that rose to fame with the Rainer Family Singers.
- During Advent Season, a seasonal play that traces the story of “Silent Night! Holy Night!” is performed at SteudlTENN Cultural Center.
Hippach: The Home of the Strasser Family Singers
Laimach, a tiny hamlet of Hippach in Zillertal Valley, was the home of the four siblings of Strasser Family Singers, Anna, Joseph, Amalia and Karolina. The Strassers were glove-makers who attended the Leipzig Christmas Fair each year and would sing as a way to advertise their wares. They too had adopted the song and in 1831, the Strasser siblings performed their version of “Silent Night!” at the Leipzig Christmas Fair. This was the first documented performance of “Silent Night! Holy Night!” outside of Austria. The audience loved the folk song from the Zillertal Valley and they were invited to give a concert at Leipzig Gewandhaus in January 1832. They gave another concert in Leipzig at Christmas in the year 1832. Following the performances in Leipzig, the first known inclusion of the song in print occurred through Dresden-based publisher A. R. Friese between 1832 and 1834. In a sheet music booklet entitled “Four Genuine Tirolian Songs”, Friese included “Silent Night”. Following their great success in Leipzig, the Strassers quit trading and toured Germany as a travelling singing group, lovingly dubbed “The Larks from Zillertal Valley” by their admirers. The Strasser Family Singers abanded in 1835.
The “Silent Night! Holy Night!” Experience:
- The birthplace of the Strasser siblings dates to the 18th century. It’s a Zillertal-style farmhouse completely built of wood, with smoke-stained timber beams, an ancient parlour with stove, crown glass window panes and door hinges. The listed “Strasser Häusl” today houses a museum that calls to mind the simple life of the Zillertal farmers and merchants, who helped to spread the song “Silent Night! Holy Night!” in the world.