Sunday, 21 December 2014

Stille Nacht Heilige Nacht

Silent Night! Holy Night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon godly tender pair.
Holy infant with curly hair,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Joseph gingerly opened his front door and stepped out onto the snow-encrusted step. Wrapping his scarf more securely around his neck he tugged at the door until he heard it close behind him and stepped over the broken tiles lying nearby. Absently he remembered that he had planned on cleaning up the jagged pottery pieces before going out. Perhaps when he returned: if he had time.

He patted his right-hand pocket and sighed with relief when he was greeted with the rustle of paper. He must hurry if he was to accomplish his errand in time. For the hundredth time, he wondered if he was doing the right thing. What if his friend Franz laughed at him? It was such a private thing for him to share. Was it worth it?

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.

It was a short walk from his home in Oberndorf to his friend’s home in nearby Arnsdorf, but for Joseph the road dragged on. Twice, he almost turned back. When a white-winged snowfinch darted out from under a nearby spruce and sat watching him, he saw it as a sign from heaven. He must go on. Whatever happened, he must go on.

Silent Night! Holy Night!
Brought the world gracious light,
Down from heaven's golden height
Comes to us the glorious sight:
Jesus, as one of mankind,
Jesus, as one of mankind.

Joseph stamped the snow from his boots as he surveyed his friend’s apartment that sat above the schoolhouse. School had already been dismissed for the day and the schoolteacher now stood outlined in the upper window. 

His courage almost failed him. What right had he a simple curate, to ask such a thing of a musician and schoolteacher? Perhaps …

No, he knew he must do this. Hadn’t God shown him the way? Whispering a quick prayer, Joseph knocked loudly on the wooden door. 

Silent Night! Holy Night!
By his love, by his might
God our Father us has graced,
As a brother gently embraced
Jesus, all nations on earth,
Jesus, all nations on earth.

“Joseph, come in. I didn’t expect you to come out in this frigid weather. I wonder how many will venture out tonight?”

Joseph removed his wraps and sat in the chair that Franz pulled up to the fire. He clutched at the paper in his pocket. It was now or never.

“I brought you the poem I told you about. The one I wrote two years ago when I was living in Mariapfarr.”

“This is the poem that you thought I might be able to set to music?”

Joseph nodded. Slowly he held out the paper to his friend.

The room was silent except for the ticking of the clock that had belonged to Franz’s grandfather and which now sat proudly on the mantelpiece. Joseph hunched over in his chair, hands clasped between his knees, hardly daring to breathe. His insides churned when Franz raised his head. He willed himself to face his friend.

“This is good, Joseph. Really good. I think we should wait and find a master musician to set it to music. I couldn’t do it justice.”

“No.” The word cut through the air, startling both men. “No, I want you to write it. I want to sing it tonight.”

“At the Midnight Mass? Impossible. Who would perform it?”

“We will. I’ll play the guitar and we’ll both sing. The choir can sing the last two lines of each stanza. See, they repeat. They should be able to manage that.”

Franz nodded. “Very well, then. Let’s get to work.”

Silent Night! Holy Night!
Long ago, minding our plight
God the world from misery freed,
In the dark age of our fathers decreed:
All the world redeemed,
All the world redeemed.

That evening, the two men stood before the congregation of St Nicholas Church in Oberndorf. It was Christmas Eve and the church was filled to overflowing. As Joseph strummed the opening chords, a sense of expectation filled the village church. Lifting their voices they sang:

Silent Night! Holy Night!
Shepherds first saw the sight
Of angels singing alleluia
Calling clearly near and far:
Christ, the saviour is born,
Christ the Saviour is born.

As their voices faded away, church bells started chiming the hour. Christmas Day 1818 was upon them. And the world had just received a gift. Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber’s Silent Night! Holy Night! would become one of the most loved carols of all time. 

© Julianne Jones 2005