In Stiller Nacht

When I lived in Germany,   I sang with the Rhineland Pfalz International Choir (second soprano).  Lately, I’ve been thinking about a song we performed called In Stiller Nacht (In the Silent Night).  Although the title is similar to Silent Night (Stille Nacht) this song is one of the german folk songs that Brahms set to music.

I was told that the song was originally a poem which was written during the reformation in Germany by a an individual who was going to be executed the following morning.  This is what he wrote in the still of the evening.  It’s so very sad and yet, if you listen there is an incredible majesty and sense of longing in this song. 

In stiller Nacht zur ersten Wacht
ein Stimm beginnt zu klagen
der nächt’ge Wind hat leis und lind
zu mir den Klang getragen.
Von herbem Leid und Traurigkeit
ist mir das Herz zerflossen.
Die Blümelein
mit Tränen mein
hab ich sie all begossen.

 

Der schöne Mond will untergeh’n
dem Leid nicht mehr mag scheinen.
Die Sterne fein im Glitzerschein
mit mir sie wollen weinen.
Kein Vogelsang noch Freudenklang
man höret in den Lüften.
Die wilden Tier’ trauern auch mit mir
in Steinen und in Klüften.

My sister posted the following translation:

In the quiet night, at the first watch,
a voice began to lament;
sweetly and gently, the night wind
carried to me its sound.
And from such bitter sorrow and grief
my heart has melted.
The little flowers – with my pure tears
I have watered them all.

The beautiful moon wishes to set
out of pain, and never shine again;
the stars will let fade their gleam
for they wish to weep with me.
Neither bird-song nor sound of joy
can one hear in the air;
the wild animals grieve with me as well,
upon the rocks and in the ravine

Here is the youtube I found of the performance. It’s a home-grown video so there is some background noise, but it’s beautiful and very heartfelt and moving.  There are other verisions on youtube, but most the american ones don’t understand the context of the song and they really rush through it as a result.

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14 responses to “In Stiller Nacht

  1. Translation:

    In the quiet night, at the first watch,
    a voice began to lament;
    sweetly and gently, the night wind
    carried to me its sound.
    And from such bitter sorrow and grief
    my heart has melted.
    The little flowers – with my pure tears
    I have watered them all.

    The beautiful moon wishes to set
    out of pain, and never shine again;
    the stars will let fade their gleam
    for they wish to weep with me.
    Neither bird-song nor sound of joy
    can one hear in the air;
    the wild animals grieve with me as well,
    upon the rocks and in the ravine

  2. Pingback: In Stiller Nacht at Measure by Measure

  3. I was looking for info on this song because I remembered singing it in high school choir. We sang it in German and then a second time with the following American translation:

    One silent night, first dusk of night
    I hear a voice lamenting
    So wistfully it came to me
    On evening breeze descending
    It filled the air with sad despair
    My heart was nearly broken
    And tears of pain fell down like rain
    To hear the words it’d spoken

    The mournful moon has set too soon
    It cannot bare the brightness
    In sympathy the stars agree
    And quench their sparkling lightness
    For in the sky no songbirds fly
    Their joy has gone forever
    And creatures mourn with cries forlourn
    Their grief will last forever

  4. This is the translation we have in our music for high school choir:

    At quiet night to the first guard
    a tuning starts to complain
    the night wind has quietly and gently
    to me the sound carried.
    From harsh grief and sadness
    if the heart has dissolved to me.
    The little flowers
    with tears mine
    if I have watered them all.

    The nice moon wants to set
    to the grief no more may appear.
    The stars finely in the glittering light
    with me them want to cry.
    No bird’s song still joy sound
    one hear in the winds.
    The wild animals also mourn with me
    in stones and in gaps.

    (we dont sing the english lyrics, they are just at the front of the book for refrence.)

    This is a truly bueatiful song.

  5. Thank you for the lovely translation.

    I think this is one of the saddest songs, especially when you know the story.

  6. we sanf this in choir but the words are a bit different
    it starts out
    “in silent night, and at first light, a voice is heard lamenting. and in the wind, at night is heard, the sound of children singing. now you can hear, the song they sing, while silently you listen…”
    i dont no wat the story is but it does sound sad – the alto part (medium) is ectremely depressing. oneof our choir subs told us we sounded like we should be singing at a funeral 😦

    • Maries,
      It was for a funeral in a way. The author of the piece wrote it the night before he was executed. This was during Martin Luther’s reformation in Germany. That’s why its so bittersweet, he talking about the things he won’t ever see again.

  7. Hallo,

    Vielen, vielen Dank fuer diese Post. “Stiller Nacht” aus Brahms ist eine von meine ganzgeliebte Lieder. Ihre Gesangen davon war auch sehr schoen!!

    Jetzt saenge ich in eine Deutsche Chor (Maennerchor) in Madison, Wisconsin USA. Ich mag so gerne, ich muB eine Gesetzungen von “In stiller Nacht” fur uns hier machen.

    Wieder, vielen Dank. Many thanks! The beauty of Brahms’s music in song will live forever. Lebe wohl / best regards,
    Erik Walke
    Madison, WI

    • Danke für Ihre freundlichen Anmerkungen. Ich sang in einem Chor vor vielen Jahren in Deutschland (Der Rhineland Pfalz Chor). Ich wohen in Deutschland für fünf Jahre.!

      This song was my favorite, I am so happy that you love it as well!
      Tschuss!

  8. This is so beautiful. Thanks for sharing this Youtube video. It is indeed a very touching song, with almost a transcendent quality to the notes. The chords are so joyful, but the meaning so sad. The very sound of it is like silver moonlight in the snow, it just makes you hold your breath and ponder. My sister sang this in choir for UIL, and they did a phenomenal job. I think they might have even gone slower than this performance… I don’t think it’s on youtube though, sorry =(

  9. Actually…

    There has been much searching about this song in terms of a frenzy amongst Brahms historians. The text is though to reflect not upon a night watchman but upon Christ in his night watch in the Mount of Olives and the text itself is thought to be loosely based upon a poem by Friedrich von Spee. The problem is that Brahms was a chronic editor of his own histories and this is part of a major edit on his part. He had two notebooks where he would scribble down ideas for music. This is not found in either of them.

    The other problem is that the Romatic “folksong” was usually anything but folk… many of them were written by the composers and really just portray the era’s lust for homey patriotism via their artisctic outlet rather than any real folklore.. you might want to look into the Knabenwunderhorn and the validity of that epic, and how great an impact it had upon its generation (funnily enough, one of Brahms greatest friends was desperately in love with the daughter of one of its authors).

    It is a very moving piece and obviously moved Brahms enough to compose it twice, once for choire and once for solo voice.

    Hope this little correction was not takend as offensive,

    Jen

  10. Not at all Jen, thank you for your input!

  11. Oh my god! I’ve been searching for this song a long time. I sang it on a school’s performance almost 5 years ago, and I still remember the lyrics. Thank you so very much for sharing this 🙂 (I’m from Argentina, sorry for my english).

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