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Mykola Leontovich Composer

Carol of the Bells (Text by Peter Wilhousky)

Performances: 3
Tracks: 3
Musicology (work in progress):
  • Carol of the Bells (Text by Peter Wilhousky)
    Year: 1936
    Pr. Instrument: Voice
    • Carol of the Bells (arr.orchestra)
Probably the most well known Ukrainian song outside of its native land, the frequently recorded Christmas piece, Carol of the Bells, began as a Ukrainian New Year's Eve song, a shchedrivka. Mykola Leontovych, an ethnomusicologist, teacher, and organizer of the First Ukrainian State Cappella, composed the version that popularized the song around 1910. Leontovych was known for his pieces inspired by Ukrainian folk music and written for unaccompanied choir. The carol gained notice as the Ukrainian State Cappella made goodwill tours of Western Europe and the United States in the late 1910s and early 1920s. The English words were written by Peter Wilhousky, a schoolteacher, after hearing the piece at one of these concerts.

The music of the Carol of the Bells is representative of Leontovych's output of folk song arrangements for a cappella ensemble with its imitative counterpoint and polyphony. Small bells are heard as the sopranos begin the piece with a light, repeated four-note motif, used throughout most of the song. Soon the other voices join with a slower melody, reminiscent of church bells. The intensity and complexity of harmonies increases as the song moves to its zenith, a single phrase in full-voice unison. The piece then unwinds, decreasing in intensity and harmonies until it finishes as it began, only this time the sopranos toll the last four bells of the evening.

No matter how this piece is arranged or performed, whether by jazz ensemble or traditional choir or on common household tools, the bells are always an essential element of this work

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