Adolphe Charles Adam was born July 24, 1803. He was born in France, the son of a Jewish music professor at the Conservatoire.
His mother was the daughter of a notable physician.
Adam began to study music but preferred improvising as he went, rather than studying specific pieces or composers.
By the time he was 20 he was writing songs for Paris vaudeville houses.
By 1830 he had completed 28 works for the theater.
Adam is probably best known for his work in authoring the ballet Giselle. He wrote a number of other ballets and nearly 40 operas before his death.
In 1847 he opened the third opera house in Paris, The Theatre National, after feuding with the owner of The Opera, another opera house in the city.
The Revolution of 1848 closed The Theatre National and left Adam with overwhelming debt.
He briefly turned to journalism but settled on teaching composition at the Paris Conservatoire from 1849 till his death in 1856.
Placide Cappeaua was born in Roquemaure, France, north of Avignon in 1808.
Cappeaua was a wine seller and an occasional writer.
Although Cappeaua was not a regular at church, yet a parish priest knew of his writing abilities and asked him to pen a poem about Christmas in 1847.
On his way to Paris, Cappeaua, inspired by the Gospel of Luke, wrote “Minuit, Chretiens.”
Once in Paris, Cappeaua met Adam and asked him to pen music for the Christmas poem.
Three days later, Adam wrote the tune and “Cantique de Noël” was premiered at midnight mass on Christmas Eve, 1847 in Roquremaure.
Not long after its debut, the song began to receive attacks from church leaders in France.
Cappeaua later left the church to join the socialist movement and adopted the more “extreme” political and social ideas of his day – such as opposition to slavery, inequality, injustice and other kinds of oppression.
It was also discovered that Adam was in fact Jewish and his reputation of composing ballets and operas was deemed incompatible with the composition of Christian songs.
The song was attacked not for the nature or subject of the song, but because of who wrote the song.
One French bishop denounced the song for its “lack of musical taste and total absence of the spirit of religion.”
But despite being shunned from the church, the song lived on in the homes and hearts of the French.
And in 1855, American Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight published an English translation to the song, “O Holy Night.”
Dwights’ strong anti-slavery views shown through in his translation with the lyrics: “Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, And in His name all oppression shall cease.”
And so today, we sing — a Christmas song, shunned by the church, written by a French Socialist and a Jewish composer, translated by a Unitarian minister and written about a holy night when God became man to save us all from the oppression of sin.
Not only was “O Holy Night” composed by a Jewish composer, but a number of other Christmas songs were written or composed by Jews.
“White Christmas” was written by Irving Berlin.
“You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” was written by Albert Hague.
“We Need a Little Christmas” was written by Jerry Herman.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas” were written by Johhny Marks.
“The Christmas Walz” and “Let it Snow, Let is Snow, Let it Snow” was written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne.
“Silver Bells” was written by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston.
“I’m Getting’ Nuttin’ for Christmas” was written by Barry Gordo