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Thursday, December 22, 2005

O Holy Night
by Chuck

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Placide Clappeau was a prosperous wine merchant and the mayor of the French city of Roquemaure. In his spare time he enjoyed writing poetry to help him relax.

In 1847 Clappeau's parish priest asked him to write a poem to be read at the mass on Christmas. Clappeau wrote the poem as requested and, when he finished, he liked it so much that he asked his friend Adolphe-Charles Adam (1803-1856), a composer of opera and ballet music in Paris, to compose music for the poem. Adams' is best known for the ballet Giselle which he produced in 1841.

Like other classic carols, the words and music conveyed the spirit of the season and became popular in France. However, a few years later, Clappeau became a socialist and left the church. This, plus the fact that the composer, Adolphe-Charles Adam, was Jewish outraged the authorities in the French Church. Rising anti-semitism in mid-nineteenth century France plus the siege mentality of the Church in France at that time as it saw and feared what it interpreted as a rising tide of atheistic socialism caused the church authorities to turn on the carol and denounce it. Like others before and after, in their zeal to combat what they saw as the enemy, they saw everything as political and attempted to wipe out everything associated with the enemy.

Fortunately, a Unitarian minister and self-styled music critic in Massachusetts, John Sullivan Dwight (1812-1893), had discovered the French carol and had translated it into English. He then proceeded to publish it in Dwight's Journal of Music, a magazine that he published himself and used to build his reputation as a music critic. Dwight's Journal of Music was apparently read by many in the music publishing profession because the carol, O Holy Night, was included in many song books published at that time. The carol became a favorite in the Union sates during the Civil War and has continued to be popular to this day.

While O Holy Night is about the only thing Placide Clappeau is remembered for today, John Sullivan Dwight's publication, Dwight's Journal of Music, continues to be studied by musicologists to this day for its information about music in New England before, during and following the Civil War.

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior’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 soul 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, O holy night, O 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 came 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; before Him lowly bend!

Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

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 pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!

French Version

Minuit, chrétiens,
C’est l’heure solennelle
Où l’Homme Dieu descendit jusqu’à nous
Pour effacer la tache originelle
Et de Son Père arrêter le courroux.
Le monde entier tressaille d’espérance
En cette nuit qui lui donne un Sauveur.
Peuple à genoux,
Attends ta délivrance!
Noël! Noël!
Voici le Rédempteur!
Noël! Noël!
Voici le Rédempteur!

Le Rédempteur
A brisé toute entrave:
La terre est libre et le ciel est ouvert.
Il voit un Frère où n’était qu’un esclave;
L’amour unit ceux qu’enchaînait le fer.
Qui Lui dira notre reconnaissance?
C’est pour nous tous qu’Il naît,
Qu’Il souffre et meurt.
Peuple debout,
Chante ta délivrance!
Noël! Noël!
Chantons le Rédempteur!
Noël! Noël!
Chantons le Rédempteur!

Copyright © 2005-2006 by Charles J. Nugent Jr. and Victor L. Nugent.

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