Carol of the Bells

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"Carol of the Bells"
Christmas carol by Mykola Leontovych
Shchedryk 4-note motif.jpg
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, with music by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych in 1914[1] and lyrics by Peter J. Wilhousky. The song is based on the Ukrainian folk chant "Shchedryk".[2] The music is in the public domain, Wilhousky's lyrics are however under copyright protection (owned by Carl Fischer Music).

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 many genres, including: classical, metal, jazz, country music, rock, trap, and pop. The piece also features in films, television shows, and parodies.



Composer Mykola Leontovych

The conductor of the Ukrainian Republic Choir, Oleksander Koshyts (also spelled Alexander Koshetz) commissioned Leontovych to create the song based on traditional Ukrainian folk chants, and the resulting new work for choir, "Shchedryk", was based on four notes Leontovych found in an anthology.[3]

The original folk story related in 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 students at Kyiv University in December 1916, but the song lost popularity in Ukraine shortly after the Soviet Union took hold.[5] It was introduced to Western audiences by the Ukrainian National Chorus during its 1919 concert tour of Europe and the Americas, where it premiered in the United States on October 5, 1921, to a sold-out audience at Carnegie Hall.[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 women's choir (unaccompanied) and another for children's choir with piano accompaniment. These are rarely performed or recorded.

English lyric versions[edit]

Wilhousky rearranged the melody for orchestra with new lyrics for NBC radio network's symphony orchestra, centered around the theme of bells because the melody reminded him of hand bells,[5] which begins "Hark! How the bells".[6] It was first aired during the Great Depression,[5] and Wilhousky copyrighted 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 as 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.[7] 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".[6]

American recordings by various artists began to surface on the radio in the 1940s.[3] The song gained further popularity when it was featured in television advertisements for champagne in the 1970s by French a cappella group the Swingle Singers.[8] "Carol of the Bells" has been recorded into 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)[35] 66

Mantikor version[edit]

Chart (2021) Peak
DE Deutsche Compilationcharts[36] 3


  1. ^ Korchova, Olena (December 17, 2012). "Carol of the Bells: Back to the Origins". The Ukrainian Week. Retrieved December 21, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Thompson, Matt (December 2015). "The Ironic Intensity of 'Carol of the Bells'" The Atlantic. Retrieved December 21, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Almond, B.J. (December 13, 2004). "'Carol of the Bells' wasn't originally a Christmas song"; Peresunko T. 100 years of Ukraine's cultural diplomacy: European mission of Ukrainian Republican Chapel (1919-1921)/Kyiv-Mohyla Humanity Journal, vol 5. 2019. – С. 69–89. Rice University via EurekAlert! Retrieved December 21, 2015.
  4. ^ Collins, Andrew (2010). "Carol of the Bells" in Stories Behind the Greatest Hits of Christmas. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan. 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. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Cuddihy, Kevin and Phillip Metcalfe (2005). "Sing It and Swing It" in Christmas's Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Kris Kringles, Merry Jingles, and Holiday Cheer. Potomac Books, Inc.: Washington, D.C. p. 74. ISBN 1574889680.
  9. ^ Wytwycky, Wasyl (updated 2010). "Leontovych, Mykola". Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine. Retrieved December 23, 2015.
  10. ^ "November 23, 1955 – December 24, 1955". BING Magazine.. Retrieved December 25, 2015.
  11. ^ Bratcher, Melissa (December 9, 2016). "Music Review: Ray Conniff And The Ray Conniff Singers, The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings". popshifter. Retrieved December 14, 2017.
  12. ^ "Ring Christmas Bells Chords and Lyrics – Ray Conniff". November 18, 2009. Retrieved December 14, 2017.
  13. ^ "The Carol of the Bells: A personal meaning and reflection for this Christmas Season". December 23, 2008. Retrieved December 14, 2017.
  14. ^ Eder, Bruce. "Review of Christmas Portrait". AllMusic. Retrieved December 24, 2015.
  15. ^ "RIAA Searchable Database". Recording Industry Association of America. Archived from the original on April 16, 2013. Retrieved December 24, 2015.
  16. ^ Shah, Niel (December 3, 2015). "How the Trans-Siberian Orchestra Became a Holiday Hit Machine: Behind the transformation from struggling metal band to touring juggernaut". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved December 24, 2015.
  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. ^ 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
  20. ^ Goeliner, Caleb (November 19, 2008). "August Burns Red's JB Brubaker On Being A Part Of 'The Spirit' Of Christmas". MTV News. Retrieved December 23, 2015.
  21. ^ Legg, Carlyn (December 1, 2015). "Music for the holiday season". The East Carolinian. Retrieved December 23, 2015.
  22. ^ Savić, Nikola (December 15, 2013). "Marillion Release 'The Carol Of The Bells' Christmas Single". Prog Sphere. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  23. ^ Scott, Jason (November 8, 2014). "Leann Rimes Rips Into 'Carol Of The Bells' At CMA Country Christmas". Pop Dust. Retrieved December 23, 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 Review ". Vollgas Richtung Rock. Retrieved December 04, 2021.
  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. ^ "Dysfunctional Family Christmas". Retrieved January 9, 2012.
  30. ^ Lascala, Marisa (July 4, 2014). "The Muppets' Fourth of July Performance Will Be Incredible Because Of Course It Will". Bustle. Retrieved December 23, 2015.
  31. ^ Macleod, Duncan (December 26, 2009). "The Muppets sing Carol of the Bells". Inspiration Room. Retrieved December 23, 2015.
  32. ^ "Music from American Dad! S6E08". Tunefind. Retrieved March 4, 2019.
  33. ^ "WTM39484 - Batman: Arkham Origins Original Video Game Score". VGMdb. Retrieved October 30, 2020.
  34. ^ "The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) - Soundtracks - IMDb". IMDb. Retrieved March 16, 2022.
  35. ^ "Pentatonix Chart History (Holiday 100)". Billboard. Retrieved August 5, 2021.
  36. ^ Official German Copilation Charts (December 3, 2021). "Chart Position #3, Week December 3, 2021 - December 9, 2021 ". Offizielle Deutsche Charts. Retrieved December 04, 2021.