#213 The First Noel

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1. The first Noel the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay,
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel!
Born is the King of Israel!

2. They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the East beyond them far,
And to the earth it gave great light,
And so it continued both day and night.

Text and music: Traditional English carol, ca. 17th century

-History: (Source: Wikipedia)

The First Nowell (also written The First Noël) is a traditional classical English carol, most likely from the 18th century, although possibly earlier.[2][3] The word Noel comes from the French word Noël meaning “Birthday”, from the Latin word natalisbirthday“.

In its current form it is of Cornish origin, and it was first published in Carols Ancient and Modern (1823) and Gilbert and Sandys Carols (1833), both of which were edited by William B. Sandys and arranged, edited and with extra lyrics written by Davies Gilbert Hymns and Carols of God.</ref> Today, it is usually performed in a four-part hymn arrangement by the English composer John Stainer, first published in his Carols, New and Old of 1871.[3]

The melody is unusual among English folk melodies in that it consists of one musical phrase repeated twice, followed by a variation on that phrase. All three phrases end on the third of the scale. The refrain, also unusually, merely repeats the melody of the verse. It is thought to be a corruption of an earlier melody sung in a church gallery setting “The First O Well”; a conjectural reconstruction of this earlier version can be found in the New Oxford Book of Carols.[4]