The History of Carol of the Bells
One of the popular carols during Christmas is “Carol of the Bells.” Peter J. Wilhousky wrote the song in 1936, and the music to which it is sang was composed by a Ukrainian composer, Mykola Leontovych.
Leontovych was commissioned by Oleksander Koshyts, conductor of the Ukranian Republic Choir, to arrange the song on traditional Ukrainian folk chants. Leontovych picked the chant “Shchedryk” and based the final tune on a four-note ostinato. The song gained so much popularity that it has been featured in television shows, films, and parodies. A variety of genres were also released, including jazz, classical, country music, pop, rock, and metal.
The caroling song was originally released under a Ukranian title which means “The Generous One,” derived from a Ukrainian word “shchedryj” which translates to “bountiful.” The Christian Ukraine celebrates New Year every spring in April. Scholars said the song was written to celebrate the coming in New Year and it tells a tale of a swallow flying into a household to proclaim the bountiful year that the family will have.
The author of the lyrics, Peter J. Wilhousky, born on July 13, 1902, was an American educator, composer, and choral conductor of ethnic extraction in Ukraine. He was part of New York’s Rusyn during his childhood and gave a performance to President Woodrow Wilson at the White House. He gained popularity when he was featured on several broadcasts of classical music with the NBC Symphony Orchestra and Arturo Toscanini. He also once performed with the historic 1947 show of Verdi’s opera Otella. His most noted work was “Carol of the Bells” and his arrangement of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
The composer, Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych, born on December 13, 1877, was an international teacher, Ukrainian composer, and choral conductor. He grew up in the Podolia province of the Russian empire where he was educated as a priest. He pursued his music education at the Saint Petersburg Court Capella and private lessons with Boleslav Yavorsky. Leontovych’s arrangement and music compositions became widely played across the Ukranian region of the Russian Empire, expanding to Europe and North America as well, where France nicknamed him “the Ukrainian Bach.”