Monday, December 24, 2018

Two Hundred Years of Silence

Listening to the radi-adi-o earlier this week, I heard a bit about the bicentennial of the beloved Christmas carol Silent Night. I had heard the legend about the organ of the church in the Austrian village of Oberndorf being damaged before Christmas, necessitating the composition of a song suitable for guitar. Even if only a legend, it's a pretty bit of backstory for a pretty song.

The central image of the song, the holy mother and child, is an appealing one- beautiful, simple, as human as it is divine. The song, written to be accompanied by the common person's musical instrument, and portraying a common domestic scene, given transcendence by divine power, is understandably popular. It's a good, simple summation of Christian theology- God made flesh in order to bring peace to the world.

The main problem with Christianity, indeed all world religions I can think of, is that it was hijacked by authoritarians. Religion is all-too-often a tool for oppression, repression, suppression. The simple message of a simple village parish's priest and musical director is lost in these days of the Christian Right. The War on Christmas is really one that has been waged by individuals who took on the mantle of Christianity.

I'm pretty open about my favorite Christmas song, but as far as religious carols go, Silent Night is one of my favorites. Here's a nice rendition of the Stille Nacht, the song in the original German:

Here's the song in English translation, given a Motown update by The Temptations:

Because there are thousands of nominally Christian children incarcerated at the southern border, I figure that I should post a version of the typical Spanish adaptation of the song, Noche de Paz (night of peace):

The song has had a great two-century run, and remains as lovely as it always was. For the record, though, my favorite religious Christmas carol is O Holy Night.


Al said...

Peace on Earth to everyone

Sirius Lunacy said...

I'm partial to 'O Little Town of Bethlehem'

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Merry Christmas, folks.

mistah charley, ph.d. said...

christmas eve our church choir sang what one of my fellow tenors called a "smooth jazz" arrangement of silent night - the melody is the same, but the ATB parts and the piano arrangement have more complex chords - it's very nice and i regret i can't find a youtube rendition of it

of all the songs we sang as a choral prelude and during the mass, i think i most enjoyed our a cappella version of lo, how a rose e'er blooming

of the christmas songs we didn't sing, the one that comes to mind now is by my distant cousin henry wadsworth longfellow - wikipedia tells us

Longfellow first wrote the poem on Christmas Day in 1863. "Christmas Bells" was first published in February 1865, in Our Young Folks, a juvenile magazine published by Ticknor and Fields. References to the Civil War are prevalent in some of the verses that are not commonly sung.

The following are the original words of Longfellow's poem:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

It was not until 1872 that the poem is known to have been set to music.

Ali Redford said...

This is all so nice. Thank you, everyone, and here's to a peaceful New Year.