Reporting Fran Lane
The well-known Christmas carol, O Holy Night, did not start out as song. Check out the fascinating story of the birth of O Holy Night…
“O Holy Night” (“Cantique de Noël“) remains one of the world’s most beloved Christmas carols. But in 1847 it started with a French poem written by Placide Cappeau, a wine merchant, mayor of the town, and an occasional poet, who had been asked by a parish priest to write a poem for Christmas mass. In a dusty coach traveling down a bumpy road to France’s capital city, Cappeau considered the priest’s request. Using the gospel of Luke as his guide, Cappeau imagined witnessing the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Thoughts of being present on the blessed night inspired him. By the time he arrived in Paris, “Cantique de Noel” had been completed.
Cappeau decided that his “Cantique de Noel” was not just a poem, but a song in need of a master musician’s hand. Not musically inclined, the poet turned to one of his friends, Adolphe Charles Adams, for help, when he arrived in Paris. Adolphe Adam composed the music for the poem.
Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight, editor of Dwight’s Journal of Music, created a singing edition based on Cappeau’s French text in 1855. In both the French original and in the two familiar English versions of the carol, the text reflects on the birth of Jesus and of mankind’s redemption.
On 24 December 1906, Reginald Fessenden, a Canadian inventor, broadcast the first AM radio program, which included him playing “O Holy Night” on the violin and singing the final verse. The carol therefore was one of the first pieces of music to be broadcast on radio.
Enrico Caruso, often considered the greatest operatic tenor who has ever lived, recorded a version of the song with its original French lyrics in 1916. Originally released on a 78-RPM acoustical disc, it has turned up on several compilation discs on CD, notably Prima Voce: The Spirit of Christmas Past.
Innumerable other singers and singing groups have also recorded the song.