Admittedly, the beginning of October is a rather strange time to ask a question about a favorite Christmas carol! On the other hand, if you're engaged in music making, October is a great time to ask such a question because you're in the thick of preparing a Christmas concert (in fact, it could be argued that waiting until October is actually a bit late!) If some one asked me this question today, I'd be hard pressed to give a single definitive answer. But one title that would certainly be on my list is Silent Night, or for you who love original languages, Stille Nacht.
The story is familiar enough, if a bit apocryphal. Legend has it that, on that fateful Christmas Eve in the little Austrian village of Oberndorf, the organ was broken down (some versions of the story even add that a mouse had chewed through the organ's bellows). In reality, we're not really sure if the organ was on the fritz. What we do know is that the assistant pastor of the little church in Oberndorf had written the words to Stille Nacht in 1816. On Christmas Eve of 1818, Mohr asked his friend and choir director Franz Gruber to compose a tune to set these words, so that it could be sung that night at midnight Christmas Eve mass. The first performance of Stille Nacht was heard with Mohr and Gruber, backed by the church choir and a simple guitar accompaniment. The rest is history--and what a history it is, as this lovely Christmas carol has found its way around the world!
Why do I rank Silent Night among my favorite Christmas carols? First, it has a simplicity that is fitting for Christmas. Amidst all the tinsel and colored lights, the shopping and the cooking, the hurrying and scurrying, Silent Night assaults us with the message of heavenly peace. Second, the musical setting doesn't get in the way of that simple text and its message. It is elegant but understated.
As part of our Christmas concerts this year, the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale will sing a wonderful setting of this old gem--one that re-captures the original style of an Austrian Landler, complete with Viennese-style strings. It's a bit different than the Silent Night you may sing this Christmas, and it is delightful! Why don't you plan to come and find out? Our Christmas concerts Starry Night and Candlelight are December 7 and 8. You'll find more details by looking around at this website!