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Is “Carol of the Bells” Really Copyrighted?

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Written by Basil on 11/20/2012 10:23 AM. Filed under:

Ring Christmas Bells cover art
Ring Christmas Bells,” an instrumental arrangement of Leontovich’s “Щедрик” (“Shchedryk”), produced and arranged by the author.

I recently received from CD Baby a PDF entitled, “Christmas Songs in the Public Domain (and Those That Aren’t),” listing some Christmas songs that are not under copyright — and several that are. Surprisingly, “Carol of the Bells” appears in the copyrighted list! Seriously? A traditional Ukrainian carol, copyrighted? That can’t be right! I did some sleuthing to see what’s up. It turns out this “traditional Ukrainian carol” is not as old as it seems.

According to the CD Baby flyer, Peter J. Wilhousky and Mykola Leontovich wrote “Carol of the Bells.” The Wikipedia article about it reveals that this is basically correct if a little misleading. Technically, Leontovich (or Leontovych) wrote the music in 1916 — a piece called “Shchedryk” (“Щедрик”). In 1956 Wilhousky added the English text which begins “Hark! How the bells…” and the well-known title. As “Carol of the Bells,” Wilhousky’s text and title remain under copyright. Ah, but what about the music?

With a little more research, I found that Leontovich’s music now roams free in the public domain. Additionally, I found several English texts for “Shchedryk” in that same free, public domain space. The awesome Choral Public Domain Library ( wiki provides information and links to sheet music under the title “Ring Christmas Bells,” the first line of another, less common English text, penned by Minna Louise Hohman in 1947.

Doesn’t that make you want to make some music? Yes, please.


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