Sunday, December 20, 2009

Everything you ever wanted to know about “O Holy Night!” but were afraid to ask.

News flash: I’m beginning to come out of my “Bah, Humbug!” phase. It happens every year about this time. Just when I think I can’t stand one more minute of Madison Avenue’s infuriating commercials and the incessant attempts by Macy’s and Walmart and Target and Best Buy and Sears and Penney’s and Kohl’s to relieve me of all the money in my bank account, wonder of wonders, just in time for Christmas, I begin to get the Christmas spirit.

Christmas Eve is still four days away, but already “O Holy Night” is running through my head.

According to our old friend Wikipedia, this well-known Christmas carol was composed in 1847 by Adolphe Adam (pronounced uh-DAWLF uh-DAHNHHH in French) as “Cantique de Noël” (Song of Christmas) using the words of the French poem “Minuit, chrétiens” (Midnight, Christians) by the poet Placide Cappeau.

See, you already know more about this subject than the average bear. Wait, here’s more:

It was translated into English by Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight in Dwight’s Journal of Music in 1855. Also, when Canadian inventor Reginald Fessenden broadcast the first AM radio program on December 24, 1906, the program included him playing “O Holy Night” on the violin, so the carol appears to have been the first piece of music to be broadcast on radio.

There’s still more.

Popular versions on records or CDs include Enrico Caruso (1912), Julius LaRosa (1953), Michael Crawford (1993), Céline Dion (1998), and Josh Groban (2002). There are dozens, if not hundreds of recordings of this song, including ones by Charlotte Church, Bing Crosby, Mariah Carey, Kelly Clarkson, and Harry Connick Jr., just to name a few people whose last names begin with the third letter of the alphabet. But my favorite version, even though it is perhaps a tad theatrical, is this one recorded in 2001 by David Phelps.

To make your excursion complete around this traditional favorite, you should know that there are at least two English versions of the lyrics, and that neither one is a direct translation from the French.

Here is version 1:

O 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,
’Til 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! O, hear the angels’ voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O 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 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, Before Him lowly bend!

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.



Here is version 2:

O! Holy night! The stars, their gleams prolonging,
Watch o’er the eve of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error, longing
For His appearance, then 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! O, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was Born;
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts we stand by the Babe adored.
O’er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
And come now, Shepherds, from your flocks unboard.
The Son of God lay thus w’thin lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our Lord.

He knows our need, our weakness never lasting,
Behold your King! By Him, let Earth accord!
Behold your King! By Him, let Earth accord!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Long live His truth, and may it last forever,
For in His name all discordant noise 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!



Here are the original French words:

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!

De notre foi que la lumière ardente
Nous guide tous au berceau de l’Enfant,
Comme autrefois une étoile brillante
Y conduisit les chefs de l’Orient.
Le Roi des rois naît dans une humble crèche:
Puissants du jour, fiers de votre grandeur,

A votre orgueil, c’est de là que Dieu prêche.
Courbez vos fronts devant le Rédempteur.
Courbez vos fronts devant 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!



And here is a translation of the French:

Midnight, Christians, it’s the solemn hour,
When God-man descended to us
To erase the stain of original sin
And to end the wrath of His Father.
The entire world thrills with hope
On this night that gives it a Savior.

People kneel down, wait for your deliverance.
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!

The ardent light of our Faith,
Guides us all to the cradle of the infant,
As in ancient times a brilliant star
Conducted the Magi there from the orient.
The King of kings was born in a humble manger;
O mighty ones of today, proud of your grandeur,

It is to your pride that God preaches.
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!

The Redeemer has overcome every obstacle:
The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
Love unites those that iron had chained.
Who will tell Him of our gratitude,
It’s for all of us that He is born,
That He suffers and dies.

People stand up! Sing of your deliverance,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!



I think I like that version best of all.

P.S. -- “uh-DAWLF uh-DAHNHHH” is my own attempt at reproducing the French pronunciation of Adolphe Adam; Wikipedia had nothing to do with it.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Agreed. The French version truly reflects what makes this a Holy Night.

Pat - Arkansas said...

Thank you, RWP! I might never have come across the original poem; it's beautiful.

I'm still a bit bahhumbuggy, but much of that was lifted this morning during the sermon at church in which our pastor spoke about Christians' "leaping for joy," just as did the unborn child that would become His forerunner. I like that Bible passage very much.

After I "fall on my knees" a few times, I need to remember to leap for joy when I arise.

Dr.John said...

One of my favorite Christmas hymns.
Thanks for all the information.

Snowbrush said...

Your last picture was made in 1943? Now, THAT'S camera shy. You really ought to update.

Peggy is a'coming your way--Eugene to Raleigh on 12/27. Say hi if you run into her.

Signing off, I remain your favorite curmudgeon...well, maybe not. But from one of your favorite curmudgeons, at least. Well, maybe not that either, so I'll just sign off as

A curmudgeon you have known

Carolina said...

Actually, I never wanted to know all these things about 'O Holy Night'.

Still, I wish you and your loved ones a very merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year.