“Carol of the Bells” (also known as the “Ukrainian Bell Carol”) is a choral miniature work originally composed by the Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych. Throughout the composition, Leontovych used a four note motif as an ostinato which was taken from an ancient pagan Ukrainian New Year’s chant known in Ukrainian as “Shchedryk” [the Generous One]. The composer created the piece as an assignment for a harmony course he was taking by correspondence in the use of an ostinato. The original work was intended to be sung a cappella by mixed choir. Two other variants of the composition; one for woman’s choir and another for children’s choir with piano accompaniment were also created by the composer.
The “Carol of the Bells” was premiered in December 1916 by a choral group made up of students at Kiev University. It was introduced to Western audiences by the Ukrainian National Chorus during its concert tour of Europe and the Americas, where it premiered in the United States on October 5, 1921 at Carnegie Hall.