Carol of the Bells

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The signature repeating four-note motif of the song. About this sound Play 

"Carol of the Bells" is a popular Christmas carol composed by Mykola Leontovych in 1904 with lyrics by Peter J. Wilhousky. The song is based on a folk chant known in Ukrainian as "Shchedryk". Wilhousky's lyrics are copyrighted, although the original musical composition is not.

The song is recognized by a four-note ostinato motif (see image to the right). It has been arranged many times for different genres, styles of singing and settings and has been covered by artists and groups of many genres: classical, metal, jazz, rock, and pop. The piece has also been featured in films, television shows, and parodies.



Main article: Shchedryk (song)
Composer Mykola Leontovych

The song is based on a traditional folk chant. It was associated with the coming New Year, which, in pre-Christian Ukraine, was originally celebrated with the coming of spring in April. (This explains why the original Ukrainian text speaks about a swallow returning and lambs being born.)

With the introduction of Christianity to Ukraine, and the adoption of the Julian calendar, the celebration of the New Year was moved from April to January, and the holiday with which the chant was originally associated became Malanka (Ukrainian: Щедрий вечір Shchedry vechir), the eve of the Julian New Year (the night of 13–14 January in the Gregorian calendar). The songs sung for this celebration are known as Shchedrivky.

The original Ukrainian text tells the tale of a swallow flying into a household to proclaim the plentiful and bountiful year that the family will have.[1] The title is derived from the Ukrainian word for "bountiful". The period for the birth of animals and the return of swallows to Ukraine, however, does not correspond to the current calendar season of winter.

Composition and translation[edit]

It was introduced to Western audiences by the Ukrainian National Chorus during its concert tour of Europe and the Americas, where it premiered in the United States on October 5, 1921 at Carnegie Hall.[2] A copyrighted English text was created by Peter Wilhousky in the 1930s,[citation needed] and since then it has been performed and sung during the Christmas season. Its initial popularity stemmed largely from Wilhousky's ability to perform it to a wide audience in his role as arranger for the NBC Symphony Orchestra, trained especially for Arturo Toscanini.[3] The song would later be assisted to further popularity by featuring in television advertisements for champagne.[3] An alternate English version ("Ring, Christmas Bells") featuring more Nativity-based lyrics, written by Minna Louise Hohman in 1947,[4] is also common.[citation needed]

The original work was intended to be sung a cappella by mixed four-voice choir. Two other settings of the composition were also created by Leontovych: one for women's choir (unaccompanied) and another for children's choir with piano accompaniment. These are rarely performed or recorded.

Notable performances[edit]


(In chronological order)

Film, television, parodies, and other media[edit]


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