Finally, the long-awaited Epiphany Eve passed. Every Ukrainian family had been looking forward to this religious feast. All land resounded with the sonorous melodies of Ukrainian carols. And in every house singers were expressing their wishes of good and wealth, peace and harmony to the hosts and their families. And everywhere was heard the song, which Ukrainian people have been singing for centuries.
"Shchedryk, Shchedryk, Shchedrivochka, a swallow’s come… ". This is our famous "Shchedryk"! But the melody of this song has charmed not only Ukrainians. Our "Shchedryk" is sung in many languages of the world, it has long been included in the repertoire of many foreign religious bands. For already more than seventy years "Shchedryk" has been the most popular Christmas tune in the world, also known as "Carol of the Bells" ( "Christmas carol bells") or "Ukrainian Carol". You can hear this melody everywhere: As a usual radio call sign throughout America in the Christmas season, in many films of the world cinema, in jazz arrangements and hard rock compositions :
"Shchedryk is not a simple tune. It's a self-sufficient piece of music, enlightened by rays of genius, who will take not the last place in the world music literature" - wrote Ukrainian composer P. Kozytskiy So it happened, but for some reason only few of us remember its real authors - the Ukrainian nation and a Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych.
The basis of the musical heritage of Mykola Leontovych, a prominent Ukrainian conductor and composer, is formed by some great arrangements for Ukrainian folk songs, based on which he created his original distinctive choral compositions, giving them a unique sounding. These songs are still being performed these days by all Ukrainian choirs in Ukraine and the diaspora.
The world-famous arrangement for "Shchedryk" belongs to those on which Mykola Leontovych worked almost all his life, and is considered to be the composer's crowning achievement. The folk version of carol on which the song was based is the oldest example of Ukrainian folklore. The first version of "Shchedryk" was written in 1901-1902, the second - in 1906-1908, the third - in 1914, the fourth one - in 1916, and, finally, the fifth - in 1919.
In 1922, "Shchedryk" was performed by Ukrainian Alexander Koshytsiafor's chorus for the first time at a concert in Carnegie Hall in New York. The melody was so Americans' liking , that an American of Ukrainian origin Petro (Peter) Wіlhousky created an English version of Shchedryk's lyrics in 1936. This happened 15 years later after the tragic death of its author, Mykola Leontovych, in January 1921.
Completely different lyrics were added to the melody of "Shchedryk" compared to those in the original version of the song: "Bells and singing, coming from everywhere. Christmas has come, bringing us peace" ... And up to this day American choirs, both professional and unprofessional, sing this piece as a Christmas carol,considering it to be their Christmas folk song.
Nowadays many national music groups and educational institutions bare the name of Mykola Leontovyc. In honour of Leontovyc many streets in Kyiv and other cities of Ukraine were given their names. The Memorial Leontovych' Museum works in Tulchin, Vinnitsa region, but visitors are rarely seen here. In 1977, another Leontovych' museum was opened in the village of Markivka close to the place of his burial. Unfortunately both the museum and the grave of Mykola Leontovych are in a terrible, abandoned state. And there is no money for repairing. If Ukrainian heritage is so cherished abroad, why don’t we take care of it living here in Ukraine?
UARP special correspondent