“Two French Carols” presents a pair of well-known, beloved tunes in contrasting styles.
The tune for “Il est ne, le divin enfant” (“He is born, the divine child”) was published in Airs des noêl lorrain (1862) and there called “Ancien air de chasse” (“Old hunting air”) due to its similarity to an old Normandy hunting tune. The Shorter New Oxford Book of Carols editors, however, presumed that the tune is an 18th-century composition in a rustic style.
The tune for “Noël Nouvelet” (often accompanying the lyrics “Sing we now of Christmas”) is thought to have existed from the early 16th century, and English translations first appeared in the 18th century. Its haunting melody in minor tonality contrasts with the simple triadic outlines in major tonality of “Il est ne.”