Thursday 31 December 2015

Carol of the Bells

This Ukrainian folk chant, originally called Shchedryk, was written by choir conductor Alexander Koshetz to celebrate the New Year.  It talks about a swallow flying into a household to proclaim the bountiful year that the family will have.  Originally the Ukrainian New Year was in April, but after the country was Christianized, the New Year moved to January, thereby making it a song sung at Christmas time.

The song was first performed by students at Kiev University in 1916.  However, after the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Soviet Union, the song lost its popularity.  The Ukrainian National Chorus brought the song to America in 1919 where it experienced a revival.

Peter Wilhousky rearranged the carol with new lyrics for American orchestras.  The melody reminded him of handbells and therefore he renamed it the Carol of the Bells.  It was first aired by NBC, performed by their radio network orchestra during the Great Depression. 

The Robert Shaw Chorale recorded the Carol of the Bells in 1946  Wynton Marsalis played it on his album Crescent City Christmas Card in 1990, with the role of the bells carried by the brass section.  Marillion released an extended version for charity in 2013.

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