The beloved carol has an interesting back-story. "Stille Nacht" was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, a village in the Austrian Empire on the Salzach river in present-day Austria. A young Catholic priest, Father Joseph Mohr, had come to Oberndorf the year before. The melody was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, schoolmaster and organist in the nearby village of Arnsdorf. On Christmas Eve 1818, Mohr brought the words to Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for that night's mass, after river flooding had possibly damaged the church organ. (Details from Wikipedia)
(Traveling folk singers started performing the song, and by a year later it was quite well known around northern Europe... and by 1839 it was performed across the ocean in New York City. The rest is history. I guess that part is history, too.)
It has been performed in many styles over the years. I share a few interesting interpretations here.
This voice might be my favorite upon God's green earth - Kathleen Battle, an extraordinary operatic soprano, accompanied by classical guitar-master Christopher Parkening.
Here's that same voice - Kathleen Battle - in a different setting. On this outing, she's accompanied by trumpet genius Wynton Marsalis and his merry band of jazz troubadors. A favorite of mine; Kathleen sings the melody in a very traditional fashion while the jazz cats do a pretty awesome, but not irreverent, jazz thing in the background. (It's a cut from a performance called, "A Carnegie Hall Christmas Concert" - the entire concert is spectacular!)
Another jazz treatment that I particularly like is by Jimmy Smith on the Hammond B3 organ. From 1964... the guy can cook anything! (If you would disapprove of "non-reverent" variations, you might want to skip this one. It's hardly a silent night!)
My favorite Elvis Christmas song will always be "Blue Christmas," but he and The Jordanaires do a fine job on "Silent Night," as well.
Who are the least-likely people to record "Silent Night"? If you're like me, you probably thought for a minute and then said, "Um... William Shatner and Iggy Pop, I guess." Well - here they are. Like pretty much everything Shatner has ever recorded, I have no idea if he's serious, or just having some harmless fun. Listen to it and assume they are both sincere!
If there's a more sublime interpretation of "Silent Night" than this one by the Cambridge Singers, please share it with me, because I have not yet heard it!