Carol of the Bells

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"Carol of the Bells"
Christmas carol by Mykola Leontovych
The four-note motif (shown four times)
Textby Peter J. Wilhousky
Based on"Shchedryk"
Composed1919 (1919)

"Carol of the Bells" is a popular Christmas carol, which is based on the Ukrainian New Year's song "Shchedryk." The music for the carol comes from the song written by the Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych in 1914; the English-language lyrics were written in 1936 by Peter Wilhousky.[1][2]

The music is based on a four-note ostinato and is in 3
signature, with the B-flat bell pealing in 6
. The carol is metrically bistable, and a listener can focus on either measure or switch between them. It has been adapted for musical genres that include classical, heavy metal, jazz, country music, rock, trap, and pop. The music has featured in films, and television shows.



Composer Mykola Leontovych

The conductor of the Ukrainian Republic Capella, Oleksander Koshyts commissioned Ukrainian composer Leontovych to create the song based on traditional Ukrainian folk songs/chants, and the resulting new work for choir, "Shchedryk", was based on four notes Leontovych found in the Ukrainian anthology.[3]

The original Ukrainian folk story related to the song was associated with the coming New Year, which, in pre-Christian Ukraine, was celebrated with the coming of spring in April. The original Ukrainian title translates to "the generous one"[4] or is perhaps derived from the Ukrainian word for bountiful (shchedryj),[3] and tells a tale of a swallow flying into a household to proclaim the bountiful year that the family will have.[5]

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 January 13–14 in the Gregorian calendar). The songs sung for this celebration are known as Shchedrivky.

The song was first performed by the Ukrainian students at Kyiv University in December 1916.[5] It was introduced to Western audiences by the Ukrainian National Chorus during its 1919 concert tour of Europe.

It premiered in the United States on October 5, 1922,[6] to a sold-out audience at Carnegie Hall and the American audience fell in love with the Ukrainian song.[3] The original work was intended to be sung a cappella by mixed four-voice choir.[5]

Two other settings of the composition were also created by Leontovych: One for the women's choir (unaccompanied) and another for the children's choir with piano accompaniment. These are rarely performed or recorded.

English lyrics versions[edit]

Wilhousky rearranged the melody for the orchestra with new lyrics for NBC radio network's symphony orchestra, centred around the theme of bells because the melody reminded him of handbells,[5] which begins "Hark! How the bells".[7] It was first aired during the Great Depression,[5] and Wilhousky secured copyright to the new lyrics in 1936 and also published the song, despite the song having been published almost two decades earlier in the Ukrainian National Republic.[3] Its initial popularity stemmed largely from Wilhousky's ability to reach a wide audience in his role as arranger for the NBC Symphony Orchestra. It is now strongly associated with Christmas because of its new lyrics, which reference bells, caroling, and the line "merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas".[3]

"Ring, Christmas Bells", an English-language variant featuring nativity-based lyrics, was written by Minna Louise Hohman in 1947.[8] Two other versions exist by anonymous writers: one from 1957 titled "Come Dance and Sing" and one from 1972 that begins "Hark to the bells".[7]

American recordings by various artists began to surface on the radio in the 1940s.[3] The song gained further popularity when an instrumental was featured in television advertisements for Andre champagne in the 1970s. "Carol of the Bells" has been recorded in over 150 versions and re-arrangements for varying vocal and instrumental compositions.[9]

Notable recordings[edit]

In popular culture[edit]


Pentatonix version[edit]

Chart (2013–2014) Peak
US Holiday 100 (Billboard)[31] 66

John Williams version[edit]

Chart (2017–2024) Peak
Germany (Official German Charts)[32] 100
Global 200 (Billboard)[33] 135
Hungary (Single Top 40)[34] 12
Hungary (Stream Top 40)[35] 16
Lithuania (AGATA)[36] 85
Poland (Polish Streaming Top 100)[37] 62
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[38] 20
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[39] 66
UK Singles (OCC)[40] 72
US Holiday 100 (Billboard)[41] 47

Mantikor version[edit]

Chart (2021) Peak
DE Deutsche Compilationcharts[42] 3

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Korchova, Olena (December 17, 2012). "Carol of the Bells: Back to the Origins". The Ukrainian Week. Archived from the original on October 28, 2018.
  2. ^ Malpas, Anna (December 24, 2023). "How Ukraine independence song became a Christmas classic". AFP.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Peresunko, T. (2019). "100 years of Ukraine's cultural diplomacy: European mission of Ukrainian Republican Chapel (1919-1921)". Kyiv-Mohyla Humanity Journal. 5: 69–89. doi:10.18523/kmhj189010.2019-6.69-89. S2CID 214231721.
    Cited by
    Almond, B.J. (December 13, 2004). "'Carol of the Bells' wasn't originally a Christmas song". EurekAlert! ( Rice University. Retrieved December 21, 2015.
  4. ^ Collins, Andrew (2010). "Carol of the Bells". Stories Behind the Greatest Hits of Christmas. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. p. 39. ISBN 9780310327950.
  5. ^ a b c d e Peterson, Lottie (December 20, 2015). "The creation of carols: A look at the history behind 7 beloved holiday songs". The Deseret News. Retrieved December 21, 2015.
  6. ^ "Carol of the Bells performance history". New York, NY: Carnegie Hall. Retrieved November 15, 2022.
  7. ^ a b Crump, William D. (2013). "Carol of the Bells" in The Christmas Encyclopedia. 3rd Edition. McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers: Jefferson, NC. p. 62. ISBN 9780786468270.
  8. ^ Nobbman, Dale V. (2000). Christmas Music Companion Fact Book: The Chronological History of Our Most Well-Known Traditional Christmas Hymns, Carols, Songs And the Writers & Composers Who Created Them. Centerstream Publishing: Anaheim Hills, CA. p. 91. ISBN 1574240676.
  9. ^ Wytwycky, Wasyl (updated 2010). "Leontovych, Mykola". Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine. Retrieved December 23, 2015.
  10. ^ Bratcher, Melissa (December 9, 2016). "Music Review: Ray Conniff And The Ray Conniff Singers, The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings". popshifter. Retrieved December 14, 2017.
  11. ^ "Ring Christmas Bells Chords and Lyrics – Ray Conniff". November 18, 2009. Retrieved December 14, 2017.
  12. ^ "The Carol of the Bells: A personal meaning and reflection for this Christmas Season". December 23, 2008. Retrieved December 14, 2017.
  13. ^ "RIAA Searchable Database". Recording Industry Association of America. Archived from the original on April 16, 2013. Retrieved December 24, 2015.
  14. ^ Thompson, Matt (December 17, 2015). "The Ironic Intensity of 'Carol of the Bells'". The Atlantic. Retrieved November 30, 2022.
  15. ^ a b "Greatest of All Time Holiday 100 Songs". Billboard. November 18, 2021. Retrieved November 24, 2022.
  16. ^ Journal, Neil Shah | Photography by Ryan Henriksen for The Wall Street (December 3, 2015). "How the Trans-Siberian Orchestra Became a Holiday Hit Machine". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved November 30, 2022.
  17. ^ "Billboard Music Charts". Billboard. Retrieved January 27, 2007.
  18. ^ "The Bird And The Bee – Carol Of The Bells". discogs. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
  19. ^ "Carol of the Bells, by Shawn Lee".
  20. ^ ThePianoGuys (December 19, 2011), Carol of the Bells (for 12 cellos) - The Piano Guys, archived from the original on December 12, 2021, retrieved October 30, 2017
  21. ^ "August Burns Red's JB Brubaker On Being A Part Of 'The Spirit' Of Christmas". MTV. Retrieved November 30, 2022.
  22. ^ Legg, Carlyn (December 2015). "Music for the holiday season". The East Carolinian. Retrieved November 30, 2022.
  23. ^ Savić, Nikola (December 15, 2013). "Marillion Release 'The Carol Of The Bells' Christmas Single". Prog Sphere. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  24. ^ "ALBUM REVIEW: Lindsey Stirling - 'Warmer In The Winter'". CelebMix. October 19, 2017. Retrieved October 23, 2017.
  25. ^ " "Im Kopf rieselt leise der Schnee."". November 28, 2017. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
  26. ^ Scherer, Nicole (November 16, 2021). "Rookies&Friends Sampler – Vol. 3 XMAS Edition". Vollgas Richtung Rock (in German). Retrieved November 30, 2022.
  27. ^ Paget, Antonia (December 20, 2015). "Have-a-go singers who formed a Christmas choir to perform concert in Walton". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved December 23, 2015.
  28. ^ "Veckolista Heatseeker, vecka 52, 2018" (in Swedish). Sverigetopplistan. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
  29. ^ Lascala, Marisa (July 4, 2014). "The Muppets' Fourth of July Performance Will Be Incredible Because Of Course It Will". Bustle. Retrieved December 23, 2015.
  30. ^ Macleod, Duncan (December 26, 2009). "The Muppets sing Carol of the Bells Archived December 24, 2018, at the Wayback Machine". Inspiration Room. Retrieved December 23, 2015.
  31. ^ "Pentatonix Chart History (Holiday 100)". Billboard. Retrieved August 5, 2021.
  32. ^ "John Williams – Carol of the Bells" (in German). GfK Entertainment charts. Retrieved December 29, 2023.
  33. ^ "John Williams Chart History (Global 200)". Billboard. Retrieved January 3, 2024.
  34. ^ "Archívum – Slágerlisták – MAHASZ" (in Hungarian). Single (track) Top 40 lista. Magyar Hanglemezkiadók Szövetsége. Retrieved November 6, 2023.
  35. ^ "Archívum – Slágerlisták – MAHASZ" (in Hungarian). Stream Top 40 slágerlista. Magyar Hanglemezkiadók Szövetsége. Retrieved November 6, 2023.
  36. ^ "Savaitės klausomiausi (TOP 100)" (in Lithuanian). AGATA. December 28, 2018. Archived from the original on October 9, 2019. Retrieved November 6, 2023.
  37. ^ "OLiS – oficjalna lista sprzedaży – single w streamie" (Select week 22.12.2023–28.12.2023.) (in Polish). OLiS. Retrieved January 4, 2024.
  38. ^ "Veckolista Singlar, vecka 52". Sverigetopplistan. Retrieved November 6, 2023.
  39. ^ "John Williams – Carol Of The Bells". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved November 6, 2023.
  40. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved December 30, 2023.
  41. ^ "John Williams Chart History (Holiday 100)". Billboard. Retrieved November 6, 2023.
  42. ^ Official German Copilation Charts (December 3, 2021). "Chart Position #3, Week December 3, 2021 - December 9, 2021 ". Offizielle Deutsche Charts. Retrieved December 04, 2021.