My Favorite Carols: Carol of the Bells

>> Monday, December 6, 2010

Leave it to the Russians to create one of the most beautiful and beloved of all "modern" carols. I first heard this particular carol on our Robert Shaw recordings as a child, and I couldn't wait until I was old enough to sing in a choir that performed it. I was thrilled when I started singing in my high school Concert Choir and Carol of the Bells was another one of the choir's Christmas Concert mainstays. To this day I never tire of hearing it, or singing it.

Carol of the Bells (also known as the "Ukrainian Bell Carol") is a choral miniature work originally composed by the Ukrainian composer Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych. Throughout the composition, Leontovych used a four note motif as an ostinato which was taken from an ancient pagan Ukrainian New Year's chant known in Ukrainian as "Shchedryk" [the Generous One]. The composer created the piece as an assignment for a harmony course he was taking by correspondence in the use of an ostinato. The original work was intended to be sung a cappella by mixed choir. Two other variants of the composition; one for woman's choir and another for children's choir with piano accompaniment were also created by the composer.

The Carol of the Bells was premiered in December 1916 by a choral group made up of students at Kiev University. 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. It was later adapted into an English language version by Peter Wilhousky in the 1930s, and to this day is performed and sung worldwide during the Christmas season. An alternate English version ("Ring, Christmas Bells") featuring more Nativity-based lyrics, written by Minna Louise Hohman in 1947, is also widely performed.



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