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Silent Night (arrangement)

Original Music: Franz Xaver Gruber
Words: Joseph Mohr (German); John Freeman Young (English); Ukrainian & French translators unknown
Instrumentation: 2222/4000/timp+1perc/gtr or hp/str
+ bass-baritone solo & SATB chorus
Duration: 4:30
Year Composed: 2011
Commissioner: Edmonton Symphony Orchestra


Audio Samples


Program Notes

The story of mice having chewed through the bellows of the church's organ forcing the premiere of "Silent Night" to be accompanied by guitar is part of the song's lore: charming though likely apocryphal. Yet the inclusion of guitar from the outset is borne out by the physical evidence: two of the earliest known manuscripts feature guitar. The first, known as Gruber-Autograph I and now lost, was dated December 24, 1818 and scored for two solo voices, choir and guitar accompaniment. The second, in the author Joseph Mohr's hand (the Mohr-Autograph, preserved at the Salzburg Museum) from ca. 1820-25, is scored for two voices and guitar.

Over the years Gruber arranged the song many times and for various combinations of instruments and voices, often introducing slight differences in melodic ornamentation and rhythm. Surprisingly the song continued to evolve after his death. Most contemporary listeners, for instance, expect the melody to rise higher at its climax than does Gruber's original.

The first verse of this arrangement pays tribute to the song's intimate origins by using a setting of Mohr's German text and Gruber's melody (Gruber-Autograph VII, ca. 1860, Salzburg Museum) accompanied only by guitar (or harp). The three remaining verses outline the song's musical journey from its quiet first performance to contemporary orchestral and choral splendour. Commissioned by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (Alberta, Canada), the arrangement features Ukrainian, French and English translations in subsequent verses to reflect Edmonton's diverse language communities. I wish to thank Nathan Berg and Rob McAlear for their contributions to the arrangement's concept.

—R.R.


Performances

  • Dec 21 & 22, 2011—Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Nathan Berg, bass-baritone. Stuart Chafetz, cond. Winspear Centre (Edmonton, AB)

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