Franz Xaver Gruber
Franz Xaver Gruber was a composer who was born on the 25th November 1787 in Hochberg, Austria. He was a teacher at a primary school in Arnsdorf, whilst also being a composer and church organist. He is most famously known for writing the music for the popular carol Silent Night (Stille Nacht).
Early on, he received free music lessons from his teacher, Andreas Peterlechner, who encouraged his musical talents, to the disapproval of his father. However, at aged 11, he received his first instrument of his own. Until he was 18 years of age, he worked as a weaver, before deciding to pursue a career in teaching in 1805. He finished his studies and in 1807, at the age of 20, took up his first post as a schoolteacher in Arnsdorf. Alongside this, he was the local organist and church caretaker.
1808 saw Gruber marry his first wife, Maria Engelsberger, 13 years his senior. Two children followed, but they sadly both died at a young age. In 1816, he was afforded the extra responsibilities of being choirmaster and organist at St Nicholas Church in the nearby village of Oberndorf bei Salzburg.
He composed the music for Silent Night on the Christmas Eve of 1818. Joseph Mohr had written a six-stanza long poem that he had shown Gruber. Mohr asked Gruber if he would put music to the poem. As the organ at the church had broken, Gruber composed the melody with an arrangement for guitar, Mohr and Gruber sang Stille Nacht for the first time at St Nicholas Church for the Christmas Mass. Mohr played the guitar as they and the choir sang. Silent Night was arranged for brass band by composer and arranger James McFadyen in 2006. Gruber composed further arrangements of Silent Night for the organ and orchestra in later years and additional scores for other carols.
Tragedy struck in 1825, when first wife Maria died. He went on to marry again, to Maria Breitfuß, a former student. They went on to have a large family of 10 children, although sadly only 4 survived through to become adults. In 1829, He moved to the town of Berndorf and later moved again to Salzburg, where he was an organist and directed the local choir. Tragedy struck Gruber again, when in 1841, his wife second wife Maria died during childbirth. However, a year later, he married third wife Katherine Wimmer.
He was quite a prolific composer. In 1989, a catalogue of his scores was published and his works numbered over 60 masses, more than 12 pieces used in church and roughly 35 songs! Additionally, he wrote arrangements of music taken form popular operas and also music for dance. But it is Silent Night that he will be forever known for. Franz Xaver Gruber died on the 7th June 1863 aged 76.