O Holy Night: Cappeau (1808-1877) and Adams (1803-1856)

Quite possibly my all time favourite Christmas carol, “O Holy Night” never fails to give me tingles down my spine. Although I had been aware of it for years, I first listened to it properly at Jennifer’s first Christmas concert with the Halle Youth Choir at the Bridgewater Hall a few years ago. It was sublime.

The words were written by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure in 1847, to celebrate the refurbishment of his parish church organ. Soon afterwards, his friend Adolphe Charles Adams set Cappeau’s poem to music, and the rest, as they say, is history. The familiar English translation is by John Sullivan Dwight (1812-1893):

  • O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
  • It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
  • Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
  • Till He appeared and the Spirit 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 angel voices!
  • O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
  • O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
  • O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

 

  • Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
  • With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
  • O’er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
  • Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.
  • The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
  • In all our trials born to be our friends.
  • He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
  • Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
  • Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

 

  • Truly He taught us to love one another,
  • His law is love and His gospel is peace.
  • Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
  • And in his name all oppression shall cease.
  • Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
  • With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
  • Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
  • His power and glory ever more proclaim!
  • His power and glory ever more proclaim!

More than a sweet ditty telling a sanitised version of the nativity, this musical poem links us directly with Jesus. He knows us all by name – our trials, our needs and our weaknesses. We are called to live His gospel of love and peace, which will end oppression. The final verse rises to a climax of both pitch and volume: His power and glory ever more proclaim!

This Christmas, Jennifer will no doubt sing it again with the Halle Youth Choir and I hope to sing it with the Manchester Chorale. Both concerts will be with large choirs in the Bridgewater Hall. We also plan to sing it together with Lydia as a trio at the midnight service on Christmas Eve in our own parish church. Just the three of us, with piano accompaniment. My spine is tingling already.

Carol P

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