The First Silent Night | SLJ DVD Review

redstarThe First Silent Night. 53 min. Dist. by PBS. 2015. $24.99. ISBN 9781627894173.

first-silent-nightGr 5 Up –This sweeping backstory of the world’s best-known Christmas carol is a mystery, with surprises aplenty as the 200-year-old song’s humble history is revealed. With gorgeous cinematography and rich narration by British actor Simon Callow, the tale is told with splendor yet simplicity. The illegitimate, impoverished Josef Mohr was born in 1792 in Salzburg, Austria, during a time of deep divisions between the haves and have-nots, but he was able to study for the priesthood thanks to a benefactor. In the dark, cold year of 1816, the adult Mohr penned a devotional poem to the Madonna and Christ child, which also expressed his hopes for peace. This itinerant priest in the Tyrolean Alps wrote what would become the lyrics for “Silent Night,” but this fact was unknown until 1854. Mohr asked his friend Franz Xaver Gruber to write the melody for his lyrics, and they sang the carol as a duet on Christmas Eve in 1818. Lovely excerpts of “Silent Night” in solo, duet, and choral arrangements are skillfully woven throughout the background. The DVD has many bonus tracks, and one, a Salzburg travel guide, is worth the modest price alone, as it provides a history of classical music for music teachers. Exquisitely made, this documentary would also be highly relevant to social studies teachers for its inquiry process in answering unsolved historical questions through primary source documents. VERDICT A cultural Christmas gem, this DVD would engage audiences in schools, libraries, and homes.–Lonna Pierce, MacArthur & Thomas Jefferson Elementary Schools, Binghamton, NY

This review was published in the School Library Journal October 2016 issue.

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