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Documentation of Silent Night Mediaproject Activities

The Silent Night project began in 1993 when Hanno Schilf moved to Salzburg in the capacity of author and film producer, to write the film script and initiate the international feature film of Silent Night! Holy Night!, which was to be made in 1995.

The commercial potential of the project seemed immense, as research has shown that 3 billion people know this song, but only one in every million has even a vague idea which country it came from. Schilf's purpose was to create worldwide awareness of the story behind the song and of Austria as the country of its origin, as well as drawing attention to the largely forgotten figure of Joseph Mohr, the song's author, and his friend Franz Xaver Gruber. The locations in and around Salzburg, which featured in the lives of the two men, were also to benefit from the publicity.

Hanno Schilf: "I also wanted to set the record straight about how Silent Night actually originated. For 146 years we have been led to believe the story Franz Xaver Gruber told in his "authentic cause of the composition of Silent Night". According to this document, the organ in Oberndorf broke down the day before Chirstmas Eve in 1818 and Gruber and Joseph Mohr sat down and wrote the song in one night. That is, Mohr wrote the text and Gruber the melody. But in 1995, an original manuscript of "Silent Night, Holy Night" was discovered, the only one we have in the hand of Joseph Mohr. It bears the date 1816 and with that, the traditional story clearly becomes untenable. Hanno Schilf started working on a new, more accurate version of the events leading to the composition of this world-famous Christmas carol.

Meanwhile this work has developed into an international media project, which reached its temporary culmination in the worldwide promotion of the 150th anniversary of the death of Joseph Mohr in December 1998.

  Below is a chronological review of events:


  • In 1993 the first book in a trilogy by Hanno Schilf was published. Written in the form of an historical novel the book describes early nineteenth-century village life, and the circumstances leading to the first performance of the song by Mohr and Gruber, in 1818. Many previously unknown historical facts are included. The book has since been translated into English, Japanese and Korean.

  • The publication of the American edition in 1994 was supported by intensive promotion in cooperation with the Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth/Michigan and its founder Wally Bronner, as well as the Austrian Consulate in L.A./General Consul Dr. Prosl. In the summer of 1994 a reading and media tour to 20 Austrian American Clubs throughout the USA was undertaken, which received widespread coverage in newspapers, radio and TV stations. According to estimates by American media experts based at the Austrian Consulate in L.A. the readings and interviews given by Hanno Schilf reached approx. 6 million US citizens. Included among the events was a presentation in L.A. on the Austrian National Holiday at which Billy Wilder and Mickey Rooney presented the book to the American public.

  • In September 1994 the double Oscar winner Mickey Rooney agreed to read the English version of Hanno Schilf's book as an audio book, and to present the story of Silent Night and its connection to Salzburg on American talkshows. During the audio and video production Mickey Rooney also made several appearances in the Austrian and German media (e.g. Thomas Gottschalk, SAT 1 and ORF).

  • International stars such as Jane Russell, Charlton Heston, Mickey Rooney, Don Murray, Michael York and Seymour Cassell have confirmed their intention to participate in the film and have already created worldwide publicity for the film project and the story of the origin of Silent Night.

  • In 1994 a basic Silent Night homepage was set up. At the time the only other Salzburg site to be in the Internet was the university. This homepage generated considerable media interest in North, Central and South America. In 1998, with sponsorship from Salzburg City, State and Chamber of Commerce, a 40-page website was established at http://www salzburgs.com and http://www silent-night-museum.org in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Japanese. The website received the Internet Christmas Award in December 1998. By the 31. December 2001 the site had had 1 000 000 hits and had prompted about 4900 emails.

  • In 1995 the story of the carol was to be developed into an international feature film. However, in May of that year a manuscript was discovered which gave direct evidence that the words had been written by Joseph Mohr in 1816 and not, as previously thought in 1818, the year the carol was first performed in Oberndorf. In 1816 Joseph Mohr was still curate in Mariapfarr, 80 miles south of Salzburg. Preparations for the film were discontinued until the historical uncertainties could be resolved. Hanno Schilf now wrote the second book about the creation of the lyrics in 1816 in Mariapfarr, in the Lungau Valley.

  • This was a book in the trilogy and complemented the already existing book about the first performance of the song. It has likewise been translated into three languages. (published by Europa and Ullstein)

  • In 1996 Hanno Schilf founded the Silent Night Museum at the birthplace of Joseph Mohr in the Steingasse 9 in Salzburg. The museum has meanwhile become an attraction for visitors, journalists, radio and TV stations from all over the world and an information source to other Silent Night sites in the state of Salzburg. Below is a list of some of the media and countries which have produced coverage of the museum, the song, Joseph Mohr and Hanno Schilf: TV stations: NBC, BBC, Nagoya-TV Japan, ZDF, ORF, ARD, Thailand-TV, China Central Television. Radio staions: Radio Suisse International with 50 stations in South America, Africa and Australia (broadcasting in English, Spanish and Portuguese). ARD Radio Northern Zone, transmitted in eight German federal states (live report with Hanno Schilf on Christmas Eve 1997). Countless interviews with radio reporters visiting the museum. Newspapers: Extensive articles in: Atlantic Monthly, Chicago Tribune, in San Diego, Ohio, as well as Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Thailand, Brunai and Australia, and in two successive editions of the British Mail on Sunday in Dec. 1998.

  • In Dec. 1998 a mini-documentary was produced with sponsorship from Salzburg City, State and Chamber of Commerce. In cooperation with CNN a 4 min. report on the story of Silent Night in cooperation with Hanno Schilf, which was broadcast world-wide on CNN's "Today" programme on Christmas Eve. The same day, the TV station ARTE (Benelux countries, France, Austria, Germany, Switzerland) also broadcast a report.

  • In cooperation and with the financial support of Salzburg City and State, Hanno Schilf and the promoter Frank H. Martius were able to present and promote Salzburg and Silent Night at Wetten, daß...?, the most successful television show in Europe with a viewer rating of 22 million. For the first time in the history of Wetten, daß...? the head of state of a country outside the host-country was given the opportunity to speak. Dr. Franz Schausberger, Governor of Salzburg, was thus able to create large-scale publicity for the State of Salzburg and Austria. Lionel Richie, the Vienna Boys' Choir and the opera star Jo Ann Pickens could also be contracted for the show.

  • December 1999: a collaborative PR venture between Premiere World Austria and the Silent Night Museum Salzburg. On Saturday, 11 December 1999, Joseph Mohr's birthday, there was an exclusive television broadcast on Salzburg TV of the film "Das Unsterbliche Lied" (The Immortal Song). Made in 1933, this was one of the first German sound films, made on location in Salzburg and Oberndorf. The part of Franz Xaver Gruber was played by his own grandson, Felix Gruber, who also wrote the first draft of the screenplay.

    Hanno Schilf found this film in the former Eastern German film archives of the old Babelsberger Drefa studios, where he was working as a consultant from 1989-1990. A colleague at the studio told him that the film had been part of the Russian booty and was on a train on its way to the USSR. But the train got no further than Poland, where it stood around in a railway station for a long time. Eventually Poland gave the entire material back to East Germany.

    In 1996, when Hanno Schilf was planning an effective opening of his privately founded Silent Night Museum in the Steingasse 9 in Salzburg he remembered the story of this film.

    With the help of the Munich based Kirch Group, which had taken over the entire East German archive for commercialization purposes, a reconstructed version of the film was screened in Das Kino, the cinema opposite the museum. Finally, after sixty years, the film had been returned to the people of Salzburg. In fact, soon afterwards Hanno Schilf was contacted by two elderly ladies who had acted as extras in the film - as young children, of course.

    In 1999, again with the help of the Kirch Group, and Premiere World Austira, Hanno Schilf was able to organize a broadcasting of this film on the local Salzburg television station, Salzburg TV.

    In return, the Leo Kirch Group, one of the largest European film merchants, was given the secondary distrubution rights of the 8 minute documentary of the Silent Night story, at no charge. This documentary was made in 1998 with the financial support of the Salzburg Chamber of Commerce and the Tourist Board.

    Hanno Schilf: "It was a great pleasure for me to express my thanks to the people of Salzburg in this way, as it was their tax contributions which made this documentary possible in the first place.

  • In February 2000 these activities were rewarded with the Salzburg Chamber of Commerce Prize for Markeitng, communication and design in the public relations category

  • The production of a Silent Night CD with participation by the Vienna Philharmoniker and Vienna Boys Choir. This Christmas CD could be on the market in the year 2000 or 2001.

  In Preparation: 2001 and 2002 beyond


  • In the year 2001-2 a 30-minute documentary about Silent Night is to be produced, presented by an international star in English and German. This documentary will be launched at the international sales fairs in spring 2001 and will be transmitted during Christmas 2001.

  • The production of a Silent Night CD, with (PolyMedia/Mercury) as co-producers. The CD is to have a promotional effect to spread the Christian message of the song, its author Joseph Mohr and for a old Salzburg christmas tradition. Internationally renowned artists from various cultures and continents could be inspired by the story of Silent Night to create new music which has the life of Joseph Mohr or the message of the song as its theme. Contributing artists would be, for example, Lionel Richie, Joe Cocker, Vaya con Dios, Massive Attack, Inner Circle, Khaled, Daniela Mercury.

  • Completion of the screenplay and pre-production of the international feature film "The Silent Night Story" (working title "The Carol of Salzburg"). The film will spread the message of the song.. It will tell the extraordinary story of the priest Joseph Mohr, who led his life according to the words of Jesus "that which you have done for my poorest, you have done for me".
In the years 1993 to 2001 the project has been privately financed with investments of approx. 15 million Austrian Schillings (US $ 1.000 000) Through these expenditures and as a result of the activites and measures listed above, approx. 1 billion people have been reached over the last 6 years.

Best Regards

Hanno Schilf