Work: The first nowell
About This Work
"The First Noel" is one of the most popular of all Christmas carols, known well to schoolchildren and to choral music arrangers who try to outdo each other in maximizing the registral sweep of the refrain by piling on lines of descant
harmony. Nevertheless, its origins are shrouded in the mists of non-notated popular musical culture. The word "Noel" is French, and was widely used (along with the variant "noe") in several hundred years' worth of French and Burgundian Christmas music; it seems to be derived from the Latin "natalis," meaning "birth." Accordingly, some historians have suggested a seventeenth-century French origin for the carol. However an English variant of the word, "Nowell," is of comparable antiquity, and many printed versions of the carol use that spelling; others contend that "The First Noel" dates back to English medieval times. By either reckoning, it is one of the oldest carols still in use, and its structure is unusual. While it is often shortened to two verses in modern performance, the carol's essence is that it tells, in a series of strophes, the entire story of Christ's birth. Seven verses have commonly come down to us; the carol's first publication, which occurred in England in 1833, included nine.
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