Posted by: rcottrill | May 3, 2010

Today in 1856 – Adolphe Adam Died

Adolphe Charles Adam was a classically trained French musician, who lived in Paris. He wrote over 50 operas and the music for 12 ballets. We know him in hymnody for one contribution only. He gave us the music for the French carol Cantique de Noel (O Holy Night). For the author of the words, see the second item under Today in 1564.

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth!

The original French version was recorded in 1916 by the great Enrico Caruso. He avoids the temptation of tenor histrionics and sings with simplicity and tender feeling. In French, the song begins:

Minuit, chrétiens, cest l’heure solennelle
Où l’Homme Dieu descendit jusquà nous
Pour effacer la tache originelle
Et de Son Père arrêter le courroux.
Le monde entier tressaille despérance
En cette nuit qui lui donne un Sauveur.
Peuple à genoux, attends ta délivrance!
Noël! Noël! Voici le Rédempteur!
Noël! Noël! Voici le Rédempteur!

(2) Today in 1878 – William Whiting Died
William Whiting was chorus master at Winchester College in England for over 35 years. He wrote volumes of poetry, and a number of hymns. But only Eternal Father, Strong to Save remains in common use. He is said to have written the song as a prayer for a friend leaving for America. It became the official hymn of the British Navy, and was later was adopted by the United States as their “Navy Hymn.” It was the favourite of Franklin Roosevelt, and was used at his funeral–as it was at the funeral of another U.S. Navy president, John F. Kennedy.

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

 (3) Maria Straub (Data Missing)
Maria Straub was born in Indiana in 1838, and she died in 1898. Other details about her life are hard to come by. We know she wrote some temperance songs, such as For Mother’s Sake I Will Refrain. But though she wrote over 200 hymns as well, only one remains in use, the children’s hymn from 1878, God Sees the Little Sparrow Fall. The music for the song was composed by Solomon Straub, Maria’s brother, a prominent musician in his own right.

The song is a simple expression of childlike confidence in God, based on the reassuring words of the Lord Jesus:

Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows (Matt. 10:29-31; and see Matt. 6:25-30).

God sees the little sparrow fall,
It meets His tender view;
If God so loves the little birds,
I know He loves me, too.

He loves me, too, He loves me, too,
I know He loves me, too;
Because He loves the little things,
I know He loves me, too.

He paints the lily of the field,
Perfumes each lily bell;
If He so loves the little flow’rs,
I know He loves me well.

God made the little birds and flow’rs,
And all things large and small;
He’ll not forget his little ones,
I know He loves them all.


  1. Lutheran Service Book has two versions of Eternal Father, one is the traditional Navy Hymn, the other is for those at sea, on land, and in the air.

    When Worship Supplement ’98 came out, they did not realize there were two versions. They chose the sea-land-air text. It wasn’t long before our Navy Men spoke up and they were able to publish both versions for the release of LSB in 2006.

    • Interesting. I have seen both versions–in fact, several versions. Mary Hamilton gave us, “Lord, guard and guide the men who fly / Through the great spaces in the sky…” Poetically superior in my view is Robert Nelson Spencer’s, “O Wind of heaven, by Thy might / Save all who dare the eagle’s flight…”

      It is worthwhile to have a prayer hymn for protection that covers land, sea and air, but I still greatly appreciate Whiting’s 1860 original. For him, the unifying factor was the triune Godhead–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each addressed in succeeding stanzas, with “O Trinity of love and power…” in the fourth.

  2. […] (2) Today in 1808 – Placide Cappeau Born When he was only 8 years old, Placide Cappeau lost a hand in a fire arms accident. He went on to become a wine merchant in the town of Roquemaure, in France, and later mayor of the town. He wrote poetry for his own enjoyment, and it is Cappeau who gave us the original French version of the carol, O Holy Night (Cantique de Noel). You can hear the great Enrico Caruso sing it here. […]

  3. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]

  4. […] Wordwise Hymns (Placide Cappeau, Adolphe Adam) The Cyber […]


%d bloggers like this: