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Monday, December 24, 2012

Day 24 - "Silent Night" by John Denver & The Muppets - 25 Days of Christmas Angst

Quiet evening, moon-lit night,
The world is silent; the moon is in sight.
'Round the world people marvel at the light,
The moon is here for rich and for poor.
All sleep peacefully and secure.
There are many songs that tell the Nativity story.  A few already on this list could be counted in that number.  The modern musical takes on this story need to prove themselves worthy over time.

So, if you focus on traditional carols there are few that rise to the level of "Silent Night."  This song's superiority is due to its simplicity and its universal message.  

"Silent Night" is THE Christmas carol.  It tells the story of Jesus' birth with simple lyrics and a beautifully simple musical accompaniment. 

The two traditional carols to compete with "Silent Night" are "O Holy Night" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem." 

"O Holy Night" is a more beautiful song packed with more emotion than "Silent Night," but it fails to appeal to the masses because the vocals require a significant amount of skill to perform.

"O Little Town of Bethlehem" has lyrics that are nonsensical to a modern audience and therefore difficult to remember and sing with conviction.

It is difficult to imagine what Christmas looked before 1818 or what it would look like today if "Silent Night" had not been composed that year and handed down to us.

Preview the remaining day of angst or review the previous days here:   

The John Denver and Muppet version I am recommending today is great because it focuses on the song itself.  The first part of this version is the first verse of the song in its original German.  Then Denver tells the story of the song's creation.  There is some doubt about the song needing to be composed in this simple manner because of the broken organ but the other details are correct.  Then the first verse is sung in the most accepted English translation.  You can listen to this version here:  http://youtu.be/_O8PfL0QnXc.

Several years ago I compiled a two CD "mixed tape" with as many versions of "Silent Night" as I could find.  This was a Christmas gift for a fried who loved the carol and appreciated all of the different versions.  In my searching I learned that there are hundreds in dozens of languages.  Yes, many Christmas carols have been translated into many languages, but none have this much world wide adoption.  There is something special about this song. 

It could be, as I suggest above, that it is its simplicity of lyric and music alone that make it appealing.  I think there might be more to it.

Regardless of your religious affiliation, the idea of a peaceful night with no worries is appealing.  Add in the image of a mother holding her newborn son and you have a nearly universal appeal to the human psyche.  Other Nativity songs overdo the details and fail to focus on the real story. 

It isn't the manger, the sheep, or the wise men we are here to look at.  Singing about those details would be like going to the maternity ward in a hospital to admire the bassinets the babies are in or to praise the scale they weigh the children on.

I have encountered versions that even drop "Virgin" from the line "Round yon Virgin Mother and Child."  Again, this makes the image more universally appealing and simplifies the song even more.

Expressions of hope, messages of universal appeal, and wishes for peace fill the mythology of the holidays.  The story told in "Silent Night" and the beautiful music that accompany it meet all three of these ends.

Silent Night
as performed by John Denver & The Muppets

[Muppets, in chorus]
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

[John Denver, spoken]
On December 24, 1818 the curate of a parish in Oberndorf, Austria, Joseph Mohr, gave a poem that he had written to a friend of his, Franz Gruber, who was also the choir master and organist in that church.  He asked Mr. Gruber if would write music for his poem, that he might write it for two solo voices and guitar accompaniment because the organ being broken he desperately wanted music to be part of their Christmas eve service.  Mr. Gruber wrote the melody to a song which has become the most beloved of all the Christmas carols, "Stille Nacht," in English - "Silent Night."  Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!  Sleep in heavenly peace.

[John Denver echoes The Muppets in chorus]
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

-----
Silent Night
[complete English version]

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

Silent night, holy night,
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

Resources:

"Silent Night"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_Night

"Stille Nacht:  Lyrics and History"
http://german.about.com/od/christmas/a/StilleNacht.htm

"O Little Town of Bethlehem"
http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/Notes_On_Carols/o_little_town_of_bethlehem.htm

Lyrics
http://www.carols.org.uk/silent_night.htm
 

25 Days Of Christmas Angst
Day Song Download/Purchase Info
24 "Silent Night" by John Denver & The Muppets Buy the full album:

Buy the song:
Read my blog post for more about this song.
The story of the song, in the song. Denver and the Muppets take on a Christmas standard.
23 "Carol Of The Bells" by Mannheim Steamroller Buy the full album:

Buy the song:
Read my blog post for more about this song.
Chip Davis brings a driving and slightly ominous feel to a standard Christmas carol.
22 "Christmas" by The Who (from Tommy) Buy the full album:
Tommy
Buy the song:
Christmas
Buy the DVD:

Buy the Blu-Ray:

Amazon Instant Streaming:
Read my blog post for more about this song.
Tommy contains a very disturbing Christmas scene with an equally disturbing song to go with it.
21 "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" by Fred Astaire (from the stop motion classic Santa Claus is Coming to Town)
Buy the DVD:

Amazon Instant Streaming:
Read my blog post for more about this song.
Who is this "Claus" and why is he coming to my town? Did TSA check him out?

Click this link to preview the remaining days of angst or review the previous days:  http://www.carneylentz.com/p/25-days-of-christmas- angst.html
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