Advent Carol for December 19: The First Nowell

The thing about The First Nowell is that is essentially the same musical phrase sung over and over for four and a half minutes, which is why it’s impressive that this arrangement by David Willcocks (who, incidentally, arranged about half of the carols we’ve heard so far, and who died in September this year aged 95 after a quite extraordinary life) manages to dart around, giving the tune to different sections at different times, introducing a descant line early on and then reverting to the main tune and generally showing off what a few dozen voices and an organ are capable of.

Whereas many of our favourite carols date from the nineteenth or early twentieth century, there is a core of traditional carols that are much earlier and this is one, dating certainly from the sixteenth century but quite possibly as early as thirteenth century in its original form. So join in and enjoy the fact that you’re carrying on a Christmas tradition that’s at least as old as Elizabeth I.

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