The First Nowell

The First Nowell

"The First Nowell" is a traditional English Christmas carol, most likely from the 16th or 17th century, but possibly dating from as early as the 13th century. In its current form it is of Cornish origin, and it was first published in "Some Ancient Christmas Carols" (1823) and "Gilbert and Sandys Christmas Carols" (1833), edited by William B. Sandys and arranged, edited and extra lyrics written by Davies Gilbert. The melody is unusual among English folk melodies in that it consists of one musical phrase repeated twice, followed by a minor variation on that phrase. All three phrases end on the third of the scale. It is thought to be a corruption of an earlier melody sung in a church gallery setting; a conjectural reconstruction of the earlier version can be found in the "New Oxford Book of Carols" (1992, ISBN 0193533235).

An orchestral arrangement, by Victor Hely-Hutchinson from his "Carol Symphony", was memorably used as the theme to the BBC adaptation of John Masefield's seasonal fantasy adventure, "The Box of Delights".

The word "Nowell" [ [ Nowell] ,] comes from the French word Noël meaning "Christmas", from the Latin word "natalis" ("birth"). It may also be from the Gaulish words "noio" or "neu" meaning "new" and "helle" meaning "light" referring to the winter solstice when sunlight begins overtaking darkness.


The first 'Noel!' the angels 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!

For all to see there was 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.

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

And by the light of that same star
Three wise men came from country far;
To seek for a King was their intent,
And to follow the star wherever it went.

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

This star drew nigh to the northwest:
Bethlehem it took its rest;
And there it did both stop and stay,
Right over the place where Jesus lay.

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

*Then did they know assuredly
Within that house the King did lie;
One entered in then for to see,
And found the Babe in poverty.

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

Then entered in those wise men three,
Full rev'rently upon their knee,
And offered there, in his presence,
Both gold and myrrh, and frankincense.

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

*Between an ox-stall and an ass
This Child there truly borned was;
For want of clothing they did him lay
All in the manger, among the hay.

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

Then let us all with one
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
That made heaven and earth of ,
And with His blood mankind hath bought.

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

*If we in our time shall do well
We shall be free from death and hell,
For God hath prepared for us all
A resting-place in general.

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

*Often omitted in modern performances.

Other versions and recordings

* In 1984 the popular European group Boney M. released the song on their album "Christmas with Boney M." at first only in South-Africa and two years later internationally on their compilation album "The 20 Greatest Christmas Songs" which contains hits from their first "Christmas Album" from 1981 and from the "Christmas with Boney M." album from 1984. The song features Boney M. members Reggie Tsiboe (lead vocals) and Liz Mitchell (backing vocals), Frank Farian (backing vocals), the London Christmas Choir and Amy & Elaine Goff (backing vocals). In 2007 the group released their newest Christmas compilation album "Christmas with Boney M." which contains for the first time all their Christmas recordings from 1978, 1981 and 1984 and also "The First Noël."
*In 1961 Sir David Willcocks published his slightly reharmonised choral arrangement of the carol in the Carols for Choirs series of books. The King's College Choir sometimes performs this version at their Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. The Willcocks arrangement has been recorded on many classical choral Christmas albums including those of the King's College Choir, the St. John's College Choir and Harry Christophers and The Sixteen.
*The composer Ralph Vaughan Williams included this carol in the concluding movements of both his "Christmas masque" "On Christmas Night" (based on the Charles Dickens book "A Christmas Carol)," and his nativity play "The First Nowell." There is also a brief orchestral quotation of the carol in his "Fantasia on Christmas Carols". Other composers who have quoted this carol in their works include Elgar in his "Starlight Express" incidental music and Victor Hely-Hutchinson in the third movement of his "Carol Symphony".
*The English composer Edward Elgar included this carol at the end of last Act of the fantasy-play "The Starlight Express", written in 1915.
*In 1991, Canadian Folk-Rock band Crash Test Dummies released this song as a single from the compilation "A Lump of Coal". A re-recorded version later appeared on their 2002 album "Jingle All The Way".
*American rock guitarist Eric Johnson played an instrumental version on a Christmas guitar instrumental album called "Merry Axemas", released in 1997.
*In 2004, Canadian singer-songwriter Allison Crowe included her piano-based version of this carol on her album "Tidings", a collection of traditional and modern songs
*The boy band *NSYNC once used this song in their album "Home for Christmas." It is Track 8 on the CD.
*Conor Oberst, better known as Bright Eyes, released this song in his "A Christmas Album", along songs like "White Christmas" and "Silent Night".
*Noel was recorded by The Supremes but remained unreleased until 1999 when their Christmas Album, "Merry Christmas", was re-released with additional tracks.
*In 2002, Dream Theater's keyboardist Jordan Rudess made a cover of this song for his CD Christmas Sky.
*In 2002, American country music singer Patty Loveless recorded a version for her album "".
*Whitney Houston recorded her own version on her 2003 album "".
*Daryl Hall & John Oates released this song on their 2006 album "Home For Christmas".
*Aly & AJ released this song on their 2006 album "Acoustic Hearts of Winter".
*Third Day released a live version of this song for their 2006 album "Christmas Offerings".
*Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan released her version of this song on her first Christmas album, "Wintersong", in 2006.
*The Trans-Siberian Orchestra have worked the melody of "The First Nowell" into a number of their songs.
*The Mormon Tabernacle Choir released an arrangement by choir conductor Mack Wilberg entitled "The First Nowell". This particular arrangement is unique in that it combines the full choir singing the tradition tune accompanied by a symphonic orchestra using a unique counter harmony. 2006.
*My American Heart did a version of this song on the 2005 "Taste Of Christmas" compilation.
*In 2007, American country music singer Toby Keith recorded a version for his album "A Classic Christmas".
* Josh Groban and Faith Hill sang this song on Groban's Christmas album "Noël" in 2007
*Celtic Woman performed "The First Noel" on the "Celtic Woman: A Christmas Celebration" DVD in 2007
*On the 24th of December 2007, Grant Eidintas wrote and recorded a symphonic metal arrangement of "The First Noel" but titled it "The Last Noel". It can be accessed and streamed online at his myspace page []
*Al Di Meola has an instrumental version of The First Noel on his album "Winter Nights"(1999).


*"The First Nowell" appears as a 60-second holiday preview spot that would air every year, starting in 2003, on the digital cable network The Family Channel. However, it is transmitted to a song called "Never A Dull Mark Moment". Any of which, the song is a definite source of the channel's shows which would be shown on an upcoming event. The announcer's voice would be combined in a singing voice which would sound like one of the characters from "Sesame Street", but this time, in a common vocal.

*On the 90's sitcom "Home Improvement", Tim Taylor (host of the fictional show "Tool Time") sings, "No Al, No Al, No Al, No Al, there is no Al on the show today!" because his assistant Al wasn't on the show that day.

*A parody of the song appeared on an episode of Animaniacs. In it, they use different scenes, the joke being that each verse involves someone saying something that sounds like the word 'nowell'. In the first verse, Yakko Warner is showing his brother how to spell Santa Claus' name. Wakko was spelling it "Santla", but of course, Santa's name has No "L". The second verse begins telling the story of Jack and Jill, but Jill(Dot Warner) is upset because the hill is empty. There's No well. In the third verse, Captain Ahab searches for Moby-Dick, but when he asks other ships, they "ain't seen No Whale." In the final verse, the Warners admit that the tune of the parody is a song you should Know well. But their parody has completely ruined it... "Oh well"!


External links

*Free arrangements for [ piano] and [ voice] from ""
* [] [] - free easy piano music for The First Nowell

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