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Sheet Music: The First Noel

TitleThe First Noel
Alternate titlesThe First Nowell
ComposerTraditional English
InstrumentationFlute duet
KeyD major
RangeC#4–D6
Time signature3/4
Tempo96 BPM
Performance time0:45
Difficulty levelintermediate
Download printable scorePDF Sheet Music (48 kB) (preview)
Download audio tracksMIDI (1 kB) (change tempo) MP3 (565 kB)
Play-along accompanimentMIDI (1 kB) (change tempo) MP3 (604 kB)
Date added2009-11-24
Last updated2009-11-24
CategoriesChristmas carols, Hymn tunes, Traditional/Folk

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Tuesday 24 November 2009

Tune of the Day: The First Noel

Traditional English Christmas carol

This traditional English carol, also known as “The First Nowell”, is most likely from the 18th century. The now popular com­bin­a­tion of tune and lyr­ics first ap­peared in print in a collection of Christmas carols published in 1833. 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. It is thought to be a corruption of an earlier melody sung in a church gallery setting; because of its repetitive nature, it probably began as a descant to another melody, or possibly as parts of other tunes.

Here the word “Noel” (or “Nowell”) comes from the French Noël, meaning “Christmas”, from the Latin natalis, “birth”. It may also be from the Gaulish words noio or neu meaning “new”, and helle, meaning “light”, referring to the winter solstice (December 21), when sunlight begins overtaking darkness.