Holiday music in a hurry: Franz Gruber and ‘Silent Night’

December 7, 2014
Photo: Gruber Silent Night window
Franz Gruber famously composed the music for "Silent Night" just a few hours before its debut at a Christmas Eve mass.

That is, Gruber composed the music in a big hurry.

Mozart was famous for being able to dash off substantial compositions at breakneck speed. A symphony in six days. An opera in just three weeks.

For Gruber, an organist, the timeline was even shorter -- just a matter of hours.    

On Christmas Eve Day in 1818, Father Joseph Mohr, the assistant priest of Gruber's small village church in Oberndorf, Austria, knocked on the organist's door. Mohr had written some poetry and needed it set to music.

Mohr wanted it sung at midnight mass. He specifically requested that guitar accompany the singers.

Gruber dashed off a sweet, simple tune for the six verses. He had no idea he’d just played a part in creating one of the most beloved Christmas carols of all time. (By the way, both Gruber and Mohr joined the singers at the mass.)

When you hear “Silent Night” this holiday season, keep this in mind: Sometimes a few hours of great inspiration can create a classic.