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King's College Cambridge 2005 #5 O Holy Night (Cantique De Noel) Adolphe Adam.
Repeated by Kings in 2009, view it here.
The Story Behind O Holy Night
O Holy Night was written by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure in 1847. The music was written by Adolphe Charles Adams.
Placide was known for his poetry, and the lyrics to the song are certainly poetry. He was approached by his parish priest to write something for the Christmas Mass, and this is what he came up with. He used the Gospel of Luke as his guide, and imagined what witnessing the birth of Jesus was like. He titled it "Cantique de Noel," which has become known in English as "O Holy Night."
The song was performed three weeks after the music and lyrics were finalized at a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
It spread across the church and France very fast, and was performed in many Catholic services. Later, when Placide left the church, and it was discovered that Adams was a Jew, the heads of the French Catholic Church decreed it "unsuitable" for a Catholic Mass. However, it continued to be popular and sung throughout France.
Legend has it that on Christmas Eve 1871, in the midst of fierce fighting between the armies of Germany and France, during the Franco-Prussian War, a French soldier suddenly jumped out of his muddy trench. Both sides stared at the seemingly crazed man. Boldly standing with no weapon in his hand or at his side, he lifted his eyes to the heavens and sang, "Minuit, Chretiens, c'est l'heure solennelle ou L'Homme Dieu descendit jusqu'a nous," the beginning of "Cantique de Noel." After completing all three verses, a German infantryman climbed out his hiding place and answered with, "Vom Himmel noch, da komm' ich her. Ich bring' euch gute neue Mar, Der guten Mar bring' ich so viel, Davon ich sing'n und sagen will," the beginning of Martin Luther's robust "From Heaven Above to Earth I Come." The story goes that the fighting stopped for the next twenty-four hours while the men on both sides observed a temporary peace in honor of Christmas day. Perhaps this story had a part in the French church once again embracing "Cantique de Noel" in holiday services.
John Sullivan Dwight introduced O Holy Night to America. But he was an old man when on Christmas Eve, 1906, Reginald Fessenden broadcast a man's voice over the airwaves. What he broadcast was the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. Following his reading, he picked up his violin and played O Holy Night - which became the first song ever sent through airwaves.
Now it is a song recognized the world over and sung by many people. It is difficult, musically, because of the range a voice needs to cover all the notes that drop low, and go up to the high A. It can be difficult to play accompaniment for the song because of all the triplets in the music. But it is wonderful when done well, and has been sung for many Christmas Masses and celebrations around the world.
Lyrics to O Holy Night
Oh holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angels' voices!
Oh night divine, Oh night when Christ was born;
Oh night divine, Oh night, Oh night Divine.
Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Behold your King.
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim