Saturday, December 24, 2016

L'Heure Solenelle

In 1843, the little parish church in Roquemaure, France, installed a new organ, and the priest wanted to do something special to celebrate. So he asked Roquemare's most famous literary figure, Placide Cappeau, to write up something Christmas-y to mark the occasion. Cappeau was probably even then an anti-clerical socialist and almost certainly an atheist, but he agreed to write something appropriate. And since he was an excellent poet, we got "Cantique de Noël". Cappeau himself liked it so much that he eventually got a friend of his, Adolphe Charles Adam, to set it to music.

Cantique de Noël
by Placide Cappeau

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!

Roughly translated:

Midnight, Christians: it is the solemn hour
when the God Man descends to us
to erase original sin
and to stay the wrath of His Father.
The whole world thrills with hope
on this night that gives it a Savior.
People, kneel down, await your deliverance:
Christmas, Christmas, behold the Redeemer;
Christmas, Christmas, behold the Redeemer!

By the ardent light of our faith
may we all be guided to the infant's cradle,
as elsetime a beautiful star
drew the kings of the east there.
The King of kings is born in a humble manger
O powers of the day, vaunting in your greatness,
God preaches to your pride.
Bow your heads before the Redeemer.
Bow your heads before the Redeemer.

The Redeemer has broken every chain:
The earth is free, and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where once was a slave;
love unites those who were chained by iron.
Who will tell of our appreciation;
for all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.
People rise up! Sing of your deliverance.
Christmas, Christmas, we sing of the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, we sing of the Redeemer.

The most famous translation, of course, is John Sullivan Dwight's version, "O Holy Night", published in the midst of the American Civil War; it still uses a version of Adam's original music.

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