Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
‘Round yon virgin, mother and child!
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing “Alleluia:
Christ the Savior is born;
Christ the Savior is born!”
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.
Orig. six verses of German lyrics by Joseph Mohr; Melody by Franz Xaver Gruber; Verses 1-3 Transl. to English by John Freeman Young; Verses 4-6 by William C. Egan. Words and music in the public domain.
CAN YOU IMAGINE...
“In the small, quiet town of Oberndorf, Austria, on a snowy Christmas Eve, a priest and an organist wrote what is now the most beloved Christmas carol world-wide.” says a reverent blurb on hymnal.org [link: http://www.hymnary.org/text/silent_night_holy_night_all_is_calm_all].
Here’s a hymn that has been sung, played, heard, prayed, hummed and hallowed by many millions of persons. Written two centuries ago, for the Christmas of 1818, it has been translated about 200 (one source says 300) times. [For 25 other translations into the English, go to http://silentnight.web.za/translate/eng.htm, from where the screenshot above was grabbed.]
But, as we realize that poetry often suffers when translated away from its native tongue, we wonder, What makes this song so extremely popular?
As HymnCrafters, let is hold it up to the light, to see if it will share some of its secrets.
A hallowed stepping out of life’s frantic pace, into simpler times, and into that special night when Righteousness and Peace kissed each other, and Grace was born as a baby. That which the divine seers had prophesied centuries earlier... that which angels desired to look into... that which caused baby John the Baptist to leap within his mother’s womb...— It has happened at last, and the hymn sings us into the circle of shepherds, angels, virgin, and Babe, amid the sleeping animals in sleepy Bethlehem. What is there for us NOT to like in this hymn, if there pulses within my heart a single throbbing of worship?
Parallelism, of course, makes a song easier to learn, understand, and remember— and more enjoyable to sing. As do our legs and our feet, so also do our thoughts and our tongue love to dance: forward, backward, again, again... repetition, with waltzing variety.
Line 1: _____ night, _____ night!
Line 2: All is _____, all is _____
Lines 3 & 4 mother and child... tender and mild... (“__er and _ild” "__er and _ild")
All six verses of the Young/Egan translation use the same first line.
All Lines 5 repeat in Lines 6, like metrical Amens.
A sanctified night, of sacred scenes:
- “Shepherds quake at the sight”
- “Glories stream from heaven”
- “Heavenly hosts sing “Alleluia”
- “Radiant beams from thy holy face”
- “...dawn of redeeming grace”
A glorious mixture of lullaby-like simplicity, and soaring grandeur!
A childlike tune, so simple that many of us remember picking it out with one finger on a piano or keyboard— along with Jesus Loves Me, Jingle Bells, London Bridge, and Mary Had a Little Lamb.
Its first musical phrase, in Line 1, repeats there perfectly.
Line 3 repeats perfectly, in Line 4.
Our common English tune has a fairly large range—an octave plus a fourth— from Do up to Fa. But we sing it with tremendous EASE, because it’s mostly within a Mi-up-to-Re range.
That’s right— each of the two lowest notes AND each of its two highest notes are sung only ONCE during the entire six lines, and all within the last twelve notes of the song!
I once heard that many of our most popular melodies use their highest and lowest notes only once or twice. But this is the only song I’ve discovered that doubles that! Do you know any others?
CONCLUSION and PRESCRIPTION: Inspiring and uplifting— if it hasn’t stirred you for a while, maybe a YouTube listen would be in order. Take your pick: soloist... tabernacle choir... school class... the grandeur awaits you. And join in with your whole heart... as if you were singing about our Savior's coming, for the very first time.
Till we meet, Stan B.