“Silent Night (Still the Night, Stille Nacht)”


German christmas song with multiple English translations, the most famous beginning "Silent night, holy night, All is calm, all is bright." The night of Jesus's birth is praised


Mohr reportedly wrote these words in 1818. The tale of Gruber's music is the stuff of folklore: His church's organ was broken, and could not be repaired until after Christmas. Therefore Gruber needed music for guitar and voice -- the only things he had available. On December 24, he wrote this music for Mohr's words.

It is said that the music was given to the world by the organ repairman, though this may be one cute story too many, as the song was not published until 1832. The truth, according to Johnson, is simply that the song was circulated privately for some years, until someone named Friese heard it, took it down, and had it published. It apparently took some time for Gruber and Mohr to get credit. It is interesting to note that Mohr wrote six verses (which, incidentally, never mention Mary!), but three of these have been completely ignored by later singers.

There are at least three English translations of these words. The first, "Stilly night, holy night," by Emily Elliot, is forgotten. In the U.S., the form "Silent Night, Holy Night" is usual; it is often listed as anonymous though it's sometimes credited to John Freeman Young.

In Britain, we often meet the version "Still the night." This too is often listed as anonymous, though Stopford A. Brooks is said to have published it in 1881.

Neither "translation" actually represents the German words very well.

Spaeth reports that the song was popularized in the United States by the Reiner (Rainer) family, starting around 1841. Ian Bradley's _Penguin Book of Carols_ also attributes its popularity to this group -- but in Austria. - RBW


  • Soul Stirrers, "Silent Night" (Aladdin 2028, n.d. but post-WWII)


  1. Silber-FSWB, p. 384, "Silent Night" (1 text)
  2. Fuld-WFM, pp. 500-501, "Silent Night"
  4. ADDITIONAL: Charles Johnson, One Hundred and One Famous Hymns (Hallberg, 1982), pp. 64-65, "Silent Night" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. Ian Bradley, _The Penguin Book of Carols_ (1999), #299, "Stille Nacht" (1 text)
  6. BI, FSWB384B


Author: Music: Franz Gruber (1787-1863) / German Words: Joseph Mohr (1792-1848)
Earliest date: 1832 (sheet music)
Found in: Germany Britain US