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Cantique de Noël - Christmas Song

Known popularly as "O Holy Night" Click here to download PDF

This song originated in Roquemaure on the river Rhone in the Burgundy region of southern France. It was written in 1843-7 by a wine merchant, Placide Cappeau, to be sung by a solo soprano in a concert marking restoration of stained glass windows in the local church. A bridge over the river was being built and the soprano was the wife of the bridge builder. She was an opera singer in Paris and knew the composer Adolphe Adam. He wrote the music score, and she sang it on Christmas Eve in 1847. It has been popular ever since, but in a so-called English translation made by a Unitarian minister in America in 1855 (N.B. Unitarianism is regarded as a heresy by mainstream protestant Christianity). Whether the French lyrics, dating from 1871 at the latest, are exactly what Cappeau wrote is not certain. The English lyrics which we know today bear little resemblance to the original French. Notice that of multiple references to Jesus as Saviour or Redeemer in the original, only one survives in Dwight's translation. The suffering and death of Christ, prominent in the original (and rare in Christmas carols), are lost. Yes, he is saviour and king, otherwise he is our friend. What do you think?

Barry Wilkins


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