“Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells, all seem to say, throw cares away. Christmas is here, bringing good cheer, to young and old, meek and the bold.” –Lyrics from “Carol of the Bells”
One of the most beloved and universally recognized Christmas songs is “Carol of the Bells” composed in 1914 by Mykola Leontovych (1877-1921), an internationally renown Ukrainian composer. However, it was not originally composed as a Christmas song.
In an article published on December 19, 2019, titled, “Toll of the Bells: The forgotten history of nationalism, oppression, and murder behind a Christmas classic,” by Lydia Tomkiw, a financial and international affairs journalist who has reported on Ukraine for several years, she opens her article with the following background information on the song, “Carol of the Bells”:
A group of men and women in traditional embroidered dress took the stage at Carnegie Hall on Oct. 5, 1922, for a performance that the New York Tribune dubbed “a marvel of technical skill.” The New York Times called the music they made “simply spontaneous in origin and artistically harmonized.” The New York Herald described the costume-clad singers as expressing “a profound unanimity of feeling that aroused genuine emotion among the listeners.” The audience that cheered for encores and threw flowers on the stage didn’t know it at the time, but they had just heard what would eventually become one of the world’s most beloved and recognized Christmas songs: “Carol of the Bells.”
Onstage was the Ukrainian National Chorus conducted by Alexander Koshetz. At the end of Part 1 of the program at Carnegie Hall, they performed composer Mykola Leontovych’s arrangement of a traditional Ukrainian song the playbill called “Shtshedryk.” The audience likely also did not know that just over a year before the New York premiere, Leontovych had been assassinated by the “Cheka”—the Bolshevik secret police.
The song’s journey onto the world’s stage and its transformation into an American Christmas classic is a tale of musical inspiration, nationalism, and political violence. At its center is a beautiful, haunting melody that has captivated audiences for over a hundred years and spawned countless versions. (Quote source and the rest of the story is available at this link.)
Here are the lyrics to “Carol of the Bells” (written in 1936) by Peter J. Wilhousky (1902-1978), an American composer of Rusyn or Ukrainian ethnic extraction:
Hark how the bells,
sweet silver bells,
all seem to say,
throw cares away
Christmas is here,
bringing good cheer,
to young and old,
meek and the bold.
Ding dong ding dong
that is their song
with joyful ring
One seems to hear
words of good cheer
filling the air.
Oh how they pound,
raising the sound,
o’er hill and dale,
telling their tale.
Gaily they ring
while people sing
songs of good cheer,
Christmas is here.
Merry, Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas,
Merry, Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas.
On on they send,
on without end,
their joyful tone
to every home.
Ding ding… dong!
(Lyrics source here.)
Below are several renditions of “Carol of the Bells” that I found on YouTube. Please enjoy listening to them, and . . .
Merry, merry . . .
Merry, merry . . .
Christmas . . . .
Nine YouTube Videos below:
“Carol of the Bells” (2017) by Lindsey Stirling:
“Carol of the Bells” (2012) by Pentatonix:
“Carol of the Bells” (for 12 Cellos) (2011) by The Piano Guys:
“Carol of the Bells” (2017) by Metallica:
“Carol of the Bells” (2013) by August Burns Red:
“Carol of the Bells” (2013) by Doug Hammer:
“Carol of the Bells” (2012) by Mannheim Steamroller:
“Carol of the Bells” (2012) by Trans-Siberian Orchestra:
“Carol of the Bells” (2013) by Jennifer Thomas (Epic Cinematic Piano & Orchestra/Choir):
Photo credit here