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First Nowell, The


It is unknown when this carol truly dates from but although it has been thought that it comes from sometime during the 16th or 17th century, there is also a possibility that it may reach as far back as the 13th century.

The version we now know originates from Cornwall, England, and was taken by the carol collector William Sandys and arranged and edited with extra verses put on by the author and politician Davies Gilbert, and published in 1833 in Gilbert and Sandys Christmas Carols.  It has also been suggested that the melody is possibly en earlier melody that would have been sung in a church gallery that has been corrupted.

The carol tells the tale of Christ’s birth over a number of verses and even though the name “Nowell” has often thought to be a corruption of the French “Noel”, it is actually an old-English word that was in used in the Middle Ages.

Over the years the carol has been recorded in many forms by artists and orchestras from all over the world and popular artists that have added it to their Christmas releases include Whitney Houston, Hall & Oates, The Supremes, Sara McLachlan, My American Hearth, NSync and Eric Johnson. Classical composers have incorporated in into their music such as John Masefield in his The Box of Delights, Ralph Vaughan Williams in his On Christmas Night, Edward Elgar in his Starlight Express and Leroy Anderson in his A Christmas Festival.

Often parodied it can be heard with various lyrics by the animated characters Animaniacs and in the TV series Home Improvement.

Black Dyke Mills Band recordings
Chandos 4541 (CD: A Christmas Fantasy)

Boston Pops recordings
Philips 416 287 – 2 (CD:  We Wish You a Merry Christmas)
Conductor – John Williams

DG 419 414-2 (CD: White Christmas)
Conductor – Arthur Fiedler

RCA 09026-61685-2 (CD: Pops Christmas Party)
Conductor – Arthur Fiedler

Sony SK 48232 (CD: Joy to the World)
Conductor – John Williams
Tanglewood Festival Chorus

Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra recordings
Naxos 8.990005 (CD: Joy to the World)
Conductor – Richard Hayman

Rochester Pops Orchestra
Koch CHD 1531 (CD: Joy to the World  Carols for Orchestra and Chorus)

St Louis Philharmonic Orchestra recordings
Sonari records – 7 55724 00272 3 (CD: Christmas with the Philharmonic)
Conductor – Robert Hart Baker