“Silent Night:” the Hamilton Connection

On December 2, 2014 Time Magazine published its analysis of the most popular Christmas song ever, and determined that “Silent Night” was “the most popular Christmas song ever.”  The Time article states:

The names Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber have largely vanished into the annals of Christmas tormentors, but their greatest triumph lives on. “Silent Night,” which Mohr wrote the lyrics for (in German) in 1816 and Gruber put to music two years later, is the most recorded Christmas song in the modern era of the holiday’s substantial oeuvre.

To determine this fact, TIME crawled the records at the U.S. Copyright Office, which offers digitized registrations going back to 1978, and collected data on every Christmas album recorded since that time. “Silent Night,” it turns out, is not merely the most popular carol; with 733 copyrighted recordings since 1978, it is nearly twice as dominant as “Joy to the World,” a distant second with 391 records to its name.

The origins of “Silent Night” in the United States actually have a Hamiltonian twist.  According to the Silent Night Society:

During a tour of America in 1839, the Rainer Family Singers sang “Silent Night!” during a Christmas day concert held in front of the Alexander Hamilton Memorial by the Trinity Church at the end of Wall Street in New York City. This is the first recorded performance of “Silent Night!” in the United States.

Gage Averill offers more detail in his book Four Parts, No Waiting: A Social History of American Barbershop Quartet.

“At a concert at the Alexander Hamilton Monument near Trinity Church in Manhattan, the Rainers premiered “Silent Night [Stille Nacht] for American audiences.  The Rainers and another singing family, the Strassers, were chiefly responsible for spreading this song…throughout Europe.”

A May 1, 1841 advertisement in the Newport Mercury newspaper announces that the Rainer Family was giving a Farewell Concert at the Masonic Hall in Newport, Rhode Island.

Rainer Family

I have not seen any information on why the Rainer Singers chose Trinity Church/the Hamilton Monument as a concert venue, and would be interested in learning more if anyone is familiar with these details!

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