V3

Oberndorf: first performance of 'Silent Night! Holy Night!'

On Christmas Eve 1818 Joseph was able to perform "Silent Night, Holy Night" publicly for the first time, with Franz Xaver Gruber in the St.Nikolas Church in Oberndorf.

Oberndorf: first performance of 'Silent Night! Holy Night!'
On Christmas Eve 1818 Joseph was able to perform "Silent Night, Holy Night" publicly for the first time, with Franz Xaver Gruber in the St.Nikolas Church in Oberndorf.

  Oberndorf in 1890


He was moved to the new parish of Oberndorf. Here he had the good fortune to be work-ing with Father Joseph Kessler, a liberal-minded man. Together they arranged mixed German-Latin masses, of the sort Joseph had encounter-ed in Mariapfarr. The parishioners were delighted as they could now understand what was being said in church for the first time and they attended the ceremonies in huge numbers. But when the news of these reforms reached the archiepiscopal consistory, they were met with great disapproval and Kessler was promptly removed. He was replaced by Georg Heinrich Nöstler, a traditionalist who rejected the use of German in church outright. For Joseph it became very difficult to work with the older priest and the two were in constant conflict. Joseph was by far the more popular of the two as he brought his God and his guitar to the people in a way they could understand and sang their songs. Nöstler found Joseph`s behaviour inappropriate for a priest and issued a formal com-plaint to the consistory in Salzburg. When the conclusion of the inquiry fell greatly in Joseph`s favour, Nöstler was outraged. He resorted to spreading rumours about Joseph`s childhood in an attempt to undermine the younger man`s popularity. He succeeded. For moral reasons, the majority turned their backs on Joseph. Even the teacher and organist Franz Xaver Gruber, who had been his closest friend until now, was reluctant to be seen at his side. However, just before Christmas in 1818, when Joseph`s situation was most bleak, the church organ broke down. Officially the mice were held to blame but it is likely that Gruber himself was responsible. Either way, it was impossible to hold the Christmas celebrations in the traditional way. Nöstler was at his wits` end and had no choice but to accept Mohr and Gruber`s offer of an alternative mass. So it was that on Christmas Eve 1818 Joseph was able to perform "Silent Night, Holy Night" publicly for the first time. Under normal circumstances, it would never have been acceptable for a German song to be played with guitar accompaniment in church.