Twitter is a strange place. Depending on who you follow or what you read in the news on the internet that leads you there, it can be informative and educational. A blog post led me to a tweet where I found this tweeted response
And Carol of the Bells is based on a Ukrainian folk song written during an intense political and social upheaval time in Soviet Ukraine.
— Erin Butler (@ErinButler13) December 22, 2019
So I went to Wikipedia where I found this history behind the “Carol of the Bells”. Yes, it originated in the Ukraine.
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.
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” or is perhaps derived from the Ukrainian word for bountiful (shchedryj), and tells a tale of a swallow flying into a household to proclaim the bountiful year that the family will have.
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 Kiev University in December 1916, but the song lost popularity in Ukraine shortly after the Soviet Union took hold. 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. The original work was intended to be sung a cappella by mixed four-voice choir.
By the time “Carol of the Bells” became a global hit, the composer, Mykola Leontovych, had been assassinated by Soviet secret police on January 21, 1921.
Considering the significance of Ukraine in our current political news, I thought I’d pass it on. Here are a few of the versions of this popular carol from traditional to funny to rock, starting with the carol sung in its original language.
Having been in Sarajevo on a humanitarian mission and watched the 1984 Winter Olympics held there, combined with “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” this is my favorite from the Trans Siberian Orchestra.