Tuesday 22 December 2015

Placide Cappeau's "Cantique de Noel" (O Holy Night)

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 soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine
O night divine.

Placide Cappeau was a one handed businessman who wrote poems as a hobby.  He was also the mayor of the French town of Roquemaure.  Cappeau composed a poem, Cantique de Noel, which a friend of a friend, Adolphe Adam, put to music.  The tune, sometimes called by its first line "Minuit Chretiens" was first performed at a Christmas Eve midnight mass in Roquemaure in 1847.  

Cantique de Noel was translated into English by Sullivan Dwight as O Holy Night and was first broadcast as a violin piece on a Massachusetts radio station on December 24, 1906.  The song focusses on the birth of Jesus and the redemption of humanity.  Both Cappeau and Dwight were abolitionists and therefore when the latter translated the lines of the second verse, he included:  "Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother/And in his name all oppression shall cease."

Minuit Chretiens has been recorded by Mireille Mathieu in 1968 on her Chante Noel album.  Celine Dion recorded O Holy Night on her 1998 album These are Special Times (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OZ5MoUXKgc).

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