The first four notes are instantly recognisable – but few would know the ‘Carol of the Bells’ is based on an ancient Ukrainian New Year’s folk chant ‘Shchedryk’, which tells the story of a swallow flying into a house to proclaim a bountiful year.
Today, Christmas is almost unimaginable without ‘Carol of the Bells’. Performed around the world and featured in movies and TV programs such as Home Alone, Die Hard and The Simpsons, its appeal is timeless and universal.
Arranged by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych at the beginning of the 20th century, ‘Shchedryk’ became an immediate sensation following a tour of Europe by the Ukrainian National Chorus in 1919. The tour was an act of cultural diplomacy organised by the newly established Ukrainian National Republic, which was seeking support from the victorious WWI Allies for an independent Ukraine.
Ukraine’s national aspirations were not supported by the Allies – and overwhelmed by a Soviet invasion, Ukraine faced a further 70 years of occupation.
However, ‘Shchedryk’ lived on. Within 100 years the melody spread globally, aided by the addition of English-language lyrics and a new title ‘Carol of the Bells’ by American composer of Ukrainian descent, Peter Wilhousky, in 1936.
Today, the belief of Ukrainians in their right to live freely and peacefully, with dignity and respect, also lives on. That is why they will continue to defend their country and way of life against violence and aggression – and hope for a better and brighter New Year.
Please enjoy this version of ‘Shchderyk – Carol of the Bells’, with the Ukrainian lyrics sung in English and Ukrainian.