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    Carol of the Bells is a thousand years old Ukrainian song

    24th December 2011

    Arranged by the Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych between 1901 and 1919, and performed in 1921 at Carnegie Hall, Shchedryk (with a completely different text and now titled Carol of the bells) rapidly became popular in the US.

    The original Ukrainian text tells the tale of a swallow flying into a household to proclaim the plentiful and bountiful year that the family will have. The title shchedryk is derived from the Ukrainian word for “bountiful”. This follows a tradition of praising the hosts of festivities in the songs during those festivities, or when coming to get sweets, small money bills or presents in exchange for nice singing by a group of children.

    English text was written separately, and is copyrighted.

    All the derived music uses the original’s four-note pattern by Mykola Leontovych. Folk song/chant was the basis for Leontovych’s work on this piece. I believe the original song had a similar musical (vocal) pattern, and that “ostinato” figure of music was already present in the song, so Leontovych’s work was probably to smooth out any uneven moments, and formalize the music in notes. Citing wikipedia article, “ostinato motif, a repeated four-note pattern within the range of a minor third is thought to be of prehistoric origins”.

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