In December 1818, Josef Mohr, the curate at the little Lutheran church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, north of Salzburg, in what is now Austria, discovered that his church organ was broken, the bellows had apparently been eaten away by mice. He shared his troubles with his good friend, Franz Gruber, the local schoolmaster and an amateur composer, Mohr gifted Gruber with a poem he had written two years earlier, Gruber set about writing music to accompany Mohr’s lyrics. On Christmas eve, the two friends, with Mohr playing his guitar, made sure there was music that night, when they gave the first public performance of Stille Nacht, or as we know it Silent Night. Below L-R Rev. Josef Mohr and Franz Gruber.
The song was circulated throughout Europe by travelling folksingers and ultimately found its way to the USA in 1839, Bing Crosby’s version first appeared on Australian charts in 1944, where he had no less than 31 #1 hits in the period 1940-57, he re-recorded and released the song many times throughout his career, and it has been translated into over 300 languages. The first four bars of the song are in the same chord so encouraging others to re-interpret the song, cover versions abound and Sinead O’Connor, The Three Tenors, Lou Christie, Barbra Streisand and Stevie Nicks have all re-invented this classic Christmas carol.
On May 28 2013, on a live final of The Voice, Delta Goodrem and Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunipingu performed Bayini, a traditional Gumalji song which Gurrumul sang in his native Yolngu language and Delta duetted in both English and Gurrumul’s Yolngu. It was a moving experience as two remarkable voices, the majestic vibrato of Gurrumul, and the crystalline soprano of Goodrem, harmonized in a way that lent true reverence and meaning to Reconciliation Week, and left us with a musical legacy of a man who would leave us too soon in 2017.Below 2014 Spirit of Christmas charity album, Gurrumul and Delta (2)
In 2014 Gurrumul would join Delta Goodrem in a rendition of Silent Night on the annual charity album Spirit of Christmas, again it would be an emotional merging of two unique voices, as Gurrumul’s murmurously affecting voice seemed to arrive from a distance, high and serene, with a hint of reediness and a humble quaver, proffering a lullaby-like ambience to this most famous of songs. Gurrumul also accompanied Delta on acoustic guitar and his musical director Michael Hohnen produced the song.