The moving story of how the multi-lingual CD “Silent Night” came into being (1999 – 2002)
by Gotthard Eder
In 1999, Mag. Manfred Fischer (advisor to the Silent Night Society) suggested to me as lead soloist that a recording of Silent Night, the authentic version with all 6 verses, should be made. The idea captivated my imagination and I started to think of how a recording could be arranged, and soon we were able to start test recording of the six verses of Silent Night in a Studio in Salzburg, with two male voices and a guitar (at first without a choral refrain). Originally from Oberndorf and Arnsdorf and having sung the song in its original version for over forty years, it wasn’t too difficult for me to work on the project and I did it with great enthusiasm.
Making this recording was exciting and interesting and inspired me to make further recordings of the song in different languages, always sticking to the authentic melody and guitar accompaniment.
Luckily, my singing partner and friend Zurab Zurabishvili studied Tenor at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg and was not only an excellent singer but was also a very talented linguist. Zurab Zurabisvili is from the Republic of Georgia/Tbilissi and therefore spoke excellent Russian.
Zurab Zurabishviliis from the Republic of Georgia/Tbilissi and therefore spoke excellent Russian. It was an extremely moving moment for me when we recorded the original melody of Silent Night with guitar accompaniment sang in Russian for the first time. Memories of stories told by our fathers, grandfathers and other war veterans came flooding back to me of how amidst the fighting on the battlefields on Christmas Eve, the humming and singing of this wondrous melody could be heard.
And now it was my privilege to arrange and record this song in this language. Of course using the original version created and composed by F. X. Gruber. For the very first time the original melody was being sung in different languages! It really was an exciting project!
What started as an experiment left me wanting more. And so, with Zurab, several new versions were created. As well as the 3-part German version with a female treble part, we arranged the classic 2-part male version of all 6 verses.
It was a great pleasure for me to be able to give my daughter Karin M. Eder, who also studied vocal music at the Bruckner Academy of Music, the soprano part. Our family roots are closely linked to the birth-place of the most beautiful Christmas Carol in the world. The song has played an integral part in our lives for generations.
And so the foundation had been laid…
Further recordings were made with Jose Moncada in Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Indian harp and panpipes.
Jose Moncada was born in Peru of Indian descent but is a resident of Helsinki. He is a passionate musician and soloist, who speaks several languages and was ideal for the project. Jose played a Silent Night improvisation for me on the bamboo flute and on a self-made South American harp in Salzburg where he was appearing in a concert.
He also sang three interpretations of the song in Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish. Jose, who gives concerts all over the world and specializes in music from his Indian homeland spontaneously agreed to interpret the song for us. With his self-made Indian harp he undoubtedly gave this beautiful song a unique and deeply religious touch.
For the ASIAN INTERPRETATION we wanted to recruit female soloists, and so the Japanese and Korean versions came into being.
Thousands of visitors come from these countries on a pilgrimage to Salzburg, Obendorf and Arnsdorf every year to experience the atmosphere in the birth-place of this fascinating carol. In Oberndorf & Arnsdorf Japanese film teams are no rarity.
The CHINESE VERSION caused a great deal of excitement as originally it had not been planned.
However, we found out from Prof. Qi (a business consultant for China, who was born in Peking, is married to a “China Expert” from Salzburg and who has lived in Salzburg for many years) that the song was also well known and quite popular in China. Prof. Qi encouraged me to record a Chinese version and promised his support, but first of all we had to find a fitting translation of the lyrics and a Chinese speaking soloist. Prof. Qi managed to organise the lyrics which dated back to the year 1931 and which he had received from the former Chinese Minister of Culture. With that, there was no longer any doubt in our minds that a Chinese version had to be recorded. Of course a Chinese version of “Silent Night” was recorded. It was and still remains a unique example of ethnic unity on a global level without any barriers, a unity seldom experienced in world history. With Prof. Qi’s consent, the tenor (1st part) is sung by a Mozarteum student from Taiwan! The second part is sung by Prof. Qi’s wife, a qualified “Peking Opera Singer” who represented, so to speak, Mainland China. Mainland China and Taiwan singing “Silent Night” together… A true vision! A light for peace and hope for China. May the light shine to the very heart and soul of all men. The interpretation of this version, probably due to the language, was one of the greatest challenges faced during the making of the CD.
And now a few words to the remaining versions:
It was of particular importance to me that the song also be recorded in Polish. I would like to consider this a dedication to Pope Johannes Paul II and his endless efforts for peace. During his era, we experienced the miracle of the fall of communist dream of world domination. I was also lucky enough to find a Polish soloist, Tadeus Milewski, in Salzburg, who had also sung solo at the 60th anniversary of Pope Johannes Paul II’s priesthood in the small chapel of the Vatican. Pope Johannes Paul II was presented with a copy of our CD as a symbol of peace.
Zurab Zurabishvili sings this version and we included a bass chorale in this arrangement which is very popular in Russia. We were able to convince Boris Rubaschkin to join us and sing on the Russian version, Rubaschkin was formerly one of the most popular and charismatic bass soloists at the “Landestheater Salzburg” and the Viennese Opera. The song is not well-known in Russia but this project is our contribution to the expansion of the song‘s popularity and to introduce the huge country of Russia and the entire GUS States to this magical and enchanting melody. Boris Rubashkin gave us tremendous support with our ever growing project and our endeavours to make it a success. Many of our grandfathers can probably remember the deeply moving significance of this song amidst the desperation of war. Forming a bond between the front lines and their families… a bond that also reached across enemy borders.
Zurab returned from a Kazakhstan concert in May 2002. He had taken a first edition copy of our CD with him in order to play it to his partners in Alma Ata. One of his partners was the Armenian ambassador in Kazakhstan who was very enthusiastic about our CD and promised his support. He wanted, if at all possible, an Armenien version of the song to be recorded. No sooner said than done! I happen to know Mrs. Anusch Nersisjan, an Armenian, married to an Austrian from Gerstendorf. Trained in Petersburg as a soprano and born in Kaban, she has also performed as a soloist in Salzburg over the last 10 years. She really wanted to be a part of the project but there were no lyrics for the 2nd and 3rd verses. Even after endless telephone calls to priests in Vienna and Rome, we were still unable to find the lyrics. Anusch Nersisjan knew, however, that the lyrics existed. Purely by chance, she visited a doctor with Armenian roots, and to the relief of the whole team, he provided us with the 2 additional verses. Mrs. Nersisjan also told me that she knew the song from her grandmother, but that after the communist take over singing the song was prohibited. Now the churches are full again and Silent Night is no longer forbidden. Mrs. Nersisjan performance of the song radiates intense emotion and sentiment. She dedicated the recording to her beloved grandmother.
Zurab Zurabishvili was born in Tiflis and studied as a tenor at the Mozarteum University. He was a pillar of strength for me and was without a doubt jointly responsible for the success of the project. Over the last few years he has often performed the song as a “Silent Night Soloist” in the Chapel in Oberndorf and was, therefore, very familiar with the song. As the song is barely known in Georgia, I wanted to work on a new interpretation of a Georgian version with him. Zurab’s mother, a Germanics professor, wrote the lyrics for us on Christmas 2001. This version is considered one of the most harmonious versions on the CD and is predestined to make quite an impact – not just in Europe but all over the world. After his last visit home in 2002 it became clear that Zurab felt the need to bring the song closer to the Georgian people. Radio stations have shown interest in broadcasting the song. An important request was that a video clip be made so that the song could also be presented on TV. And we already have a production concept. One thing is certain, the Georgian version of Silent Night is a world premiere. A characteristic feature of this version is the typical Georgian bass chorale.
The ENGLISH VERSION, the UNIVERSAL VERSION:
Firstly, in order to do justice to the significance of the English version of the song,
- we recorded it authentically with two female voices. Secondly, in recognition of the most famous version world wide (besides the original German version),
- we also arranged a new interpretation with the English lyrics deliberately in the foreground.
In this way we hope to emphasize the importance of the song’s message throughout the world.
THE ORIGINAL VERSION
was recorded with the lyrics of all 6 verses from J. Mohr and the melody from F. X. Gruber. A version that has, until now, never been recorded. As I already mentioned, it was the explicit wish of the Silent Night Association to finally be able to present a 6-versed original version of the song with guitar accompaniment and choral refrain. And so we succeeded in recording this version with the “Fuchsberger” brothers from Koppl, near Salzburg. Not only do the brothers have a long history of performing the song, but they also are from Koppl, a village where J. Mohr served as an assistant priest after having written the song in 1818. The Fuchsberger Ensemble also sang the choral refrain. The organ piece was played on the organ at Michaelbeuern Abbey near Salzburg. (Organist: Mag. Claudia Loiperdinger, Dorfbeuern) We would like to point out that Michaelbeuern Abbey, and with it the church at Arnsdorf, belonged to the parish of Lamprechtshausen. Due to the importance of pilgrimages at that time, the vicarage was situated in“Maria am Mösl”, Arnsdorf until late into the 20th Century. To introduce and to close this interpretation, we chose the pealing of the bells at Salzburg Cathedral, ringing out the message of peace from one of the most significant religious buildings in Austria and indeed Europe.
The cover design
interesting incidents while in search of the right motif for the CD-cover. Well in to the final stages of the development of the CD-cover, we realized that we did not have a practicable motif of the holy family. Despite endless searching, we had not yet found what we were looking for. Suddenly out of the blue, a catalogue of paintings from the Castle “Rohrau” came to my mind and in particular a painting from the “Harrachschen” collection, which I had seen just a few days before. Our choir group had visited the Haydn birth-place and Schloss Rohrau. I showed our graphic designer the picture in the catalogue and he was immediately convinced: “That’s it!” To cut a long story short, I phoned the painting restorer Mag. Shaupper, it was Friday afternoon just before closing time, and he said, “You’re lucky I’m still here!” I told him what I had in mind and he spontaneously agreed to using the painting as the main motif for the CD-cover. We sorted out the formalities quickly. We had finished all the other graphic work on the cover, and I then needed to get hold of a negative of the painting as quickly as possible. Then the idea came to me, as if sent from above, to ask my good friend and culture enthusiast for help. This friend just happened to be in the Vienna area on business and promised to pick up the negative of the painting that very day. On Sunday evening I held the long awaited negative of our motif in my hand.
One of the most beautiful paintings of the holy family ever painted now adorns the cover of my CD. In addition, the name of the painting is “Holy Night” …. was this all down to luck, did things happen by chance, or was it our destiny?
The Harrach’she collection is one of the largest private collections of paintings in the world. The artist’s name was Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-79). He created this painting in Rome in about 1755/56. Today it is considered one of the most valuable pieces in this collection. This was one of the many experiences surrounding the production of the CD, where more often than not I felt as if I was receiving guidance from above.
This post is also available in: German