It was on Christmas Eve 1818, when a song that touched the world’s heart rang out for the first time: “Silent Night! Holy Night!” is a song which for two centuries has given people around the world hope and comfort. It was written and set to music in 1818 by Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber in Salzburg. However, it was singers from Tirol who made the work an international sensation. Even in the early 19th century a worldwide hit needed not only the right song but also the right singers. The history of what is today the world's most famous Christmas carol is a tale of courage, talent and serendipity.
From Tirol into the World
In the 19th century it was not unusual for farmers in Tirol to leave the region in winter and work as travelling salesmen. To stand out from the crowd, glove merchant Lorenz Strasser from the Zillertal Valley took his children with him on his travels. They would give concerts and sing for his customers. For example, it is recorded that they performed at the Christmas market in Leipzig in 1831. Their repertoire included a song at that time unknown in Germany: Silent Night. The carol had been brought to the Zillertal Valley several years before by organ maker Carl Mauracher following a visit to Salzburg. The version sung by the Strasser family became a hit and took them across Europe. A few years later the 18-year-old Ludwig Rainer set sail for America together with his quartet of singers from the village of Fügen. On Christmas Eve in 1839 the Rainer singers gave a concert in New York and "Silent Night" was performed for the first time in the New World. The audience loved it, especially since at that time there were many German emigrants living in the United States. That is the story of how the world's most famous Christmas carol has set out on its triumphant journey around the world from a small valley in the Austrian Province of Tirol. UNESCO also recognised the importance of “Silent Night! Holy Night!” as a vital cultural treasure and in 2011 it was placed on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria.