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Franz Gruber and “Stille Nacht”


Franz Xaver Gruber (November 25, 1787 – June 7, 1863), was an Austrian primary school teacher, church organist, and composer in the village of Arnsdorf, who is best known for composing the music to Stille Nacht (Silent Night).  Gruber was born on November 25, 1787, in the village of Hochburg, Upper Austria, the son of linen weavers, Josef and Maria Gruber. His given name was recorded in the baptismal record as “Conrad Xavier,” but this was later changed to “Franz Xaver.”  The Hochburger schoolteacher Andreas Peterlechner gave him music lessons.

Gruber worked as a weaver until the age of 18, then trained to become a schoolteacher. He completed his music education studying with the church organist of Burghausen, Georg Hartdobler. In 1807 Gruber became schoolteacher at the primary school in Arnsdorf. He also became the church caretaker and organist. In 1808 he married a widow, Maria Elisabeth Fischinger Engelsberger. They had two children, both of whom died young. In 1816 he took on the additional responsibilities of organist and choirmaster at St Nicholas Church in the neighboring village of Oberndorf bei Salzburg.

Together with Joseph Mohr, a Catholic priest who wrote the original German lyrics, Gruber composed the music for the Christmas carol Silent Night. On Christmas Eve of 1818, Mohr, an assistant pastor at St Nicholas, showed Gruber a six-stanza poem he had written in 1816. He asked Gruber to set the poem to music. The church organ had broken down so Gruber produced a melody with guitar arrangement for the poem. The two men sang Stille Nacht for the first time at Christmas Mass in St Nicholas Church while Mohr played guitar and the choir repeated the last two lines of each verse.

After the death of his first wife in 1825, Gruber married a former student, Maria Breitfuss. They had ten children, four of whom survived to adulthood. In 1829 Gruber moved to Berndorf, and in later years to Hallein, Salzburg, where he was named choir director, singer and organist.  Maria Gruber died in childbirth in 1841. The following year he married Katherine Wimmer.   In later years, Gruber composed additional arrangements of the carol for organ and for organ with orchestra, as well as scores of other carols and masses, many of which are still in print and sung today in Austrian churches.  He died on June 7, 1863, aged 75, at Hallein near Salzburg, Austria.

The following work by Franz Xaver Gruber is contained in my collection:

Silent Night or Stille Nacht (1818).


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