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The first Nowell


Sir. John Stainer


Traditional circa 17th Century or earlier.


The first Nowell the angel did say
   was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
in fields as they lay, keeping their sheep,
   on a cold winter's night that was so deep.

Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell,
   born is the King of Israel.

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.

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.

This star drew nigh to the northwest,
   O'er Bethlehem it took its rest,
and there it did both stop and stay
   right over the place where Jesus lay.

Then entered in those wise men three
   full reverently upon their knee,
and offered there in his presence
   their gold, and myrrh, and frankincense.

Then let us all with one accord
   sing praises to our heavenly Lord;
that hath made heaven and earth of nought,
   and with his blood mankind hath bought.


The first Nowell - arr Stainer

Created 26-Nov-08 Revised 20-Apr-09

The first Nowell

The First Nowell most likely dates 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 comes from the French word Noel 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.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Metasyntactic variable".

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