The Unbelievable, Inspiring Story Behind 'O Holy Night'
"O Holy Night:" It's a tough song to sing, isn't it? Also hard to play on the piano (so I've been told since I can't play anything but the radio). But it is a "show stopper" at all the Christmas cantatas. You just can't help but get a thrill when you belt out the chorus "Fall on your knees..."
The carol "O Holy Night" was actually banned by church leadership, and if it were not for the common people, the powerful song would have faded into obscurity. In 1847 a wine merchant in France, Placide Cappeau, was asked by his parish priest to write a poem for the Christmas Eve service.
On a hard carriage ride to Paris, the gentleman imagined himself a witness to the birth of Christ. The wonder of that glorious moment flowed through his pen, and he gave us the poem "Cantique de Noel" (song of Christmas). Cappeau had the words, but now he needed the music to lift souls heavenward in song.
So ... he asked his friend, Adolphe Charles Adam. It was an unusual request. Adam was certainly a trained classical musician, so writing a tune was no big deal for him. But he was not a Christian — he was of the Jewish faith!
Nevertheless, he good naturedly received his friend's request and began at once to compose an original tune for the poem. It was a perfect match and the song was performed for the congregation on Christmas Eve. The French loved the song! Here is a performance of the original song in the French language with English subtitles:
Unfortunately, a few years later it was learned that Cappeau had left the Church for the philosophy of socialism, and after it was discovered that the composer was not of the Christian faith, the Church leadership in France banned the song from their liturgy.
Next Page: But the French would not let this beautiful song die.