Advertise on ChoralNet 
ChoralNet logo
The mission of the ACDA is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition, and advocacy.

Public domain - Carol of the Bells

Within my limited abilities, I've been trying to find out if Carol of the Bells is in public domain.  It doesn't show up on the CPDL web site.  Is the Wilhousky arr. still under copyright?  How much of that is his original material?  Help appreciated.
Replies (12): Threaded | Chronological
on June 22, 2011 10:43am
The music is PD. Wilhousky's arrangement basically added words to the existing work, which actually had nothing to do with Christmas. So the words are still copyrighted.
on June 22, 2011 11:05am
The English words starting with "Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells" are copyrighted, but the music is PD. There are PD versions with other words (here's one on CPDL). The original Ukrainian words are about the New Year.
on June 22, 2011 11:28am
Jerome:  The original was Russian, with Russian lyrics, and I don't know how new or old it is, but you might have to Google its Russian title to find it.
I'm pretty sure that the English translation is copyrighted, and almost certain that the Wilhousky arrangement is.  So there are three different copyrights to deal with, and I would NOT assume that any of them are public domain, although it's possible that the original Russian version might be.  Have you checked Pepper?
All the best,
on June 23, 2011 4:55am
I downloaded the piece from CPDL as Ring Christmas Bells...The text represents not so much a New Year greeting as one that heralds the arrival of the swallow (schedrik), arguably in the Ukrainian Spring.  The connection with the Christmas period was made over time, it seems...
Words differ as one encounters different versions.  Listen, for example, to the CD En La Fête de Noël put out by Naxos some years ago.  In the end, one may have to 'fiddle' a suitable text.  We changed a bar or two within the song and the ending that we use doesn't correspond to the CPDL version - both things done as practical measures. 
I'm not at all sure, in any case, that you can claim copywright over any song (text or tune) that purports to be traditional.
And was it Leontovych who first put tune and text together?
Happy to be corrected and advised on any points made here.
roly brown,
on June 23, 2011 11:14am
Roly:  Just a small point.  A "song" does not claim to be traditional.  Those who may want to publish or arrange it may do so, but legal proof can be difficult to come by.  Back in the mid-'80s, my late wife edited two collections of folk song arrangements.  The rule of thumb that someone suggested, and that we followed, was that if we could find two examples of a song published without copyright claim, we assumed it to be public domain.  ("Traditional" is not a technical legal term, either.  A song is either covered by copyright or it is in the public domain, but it can differ under different country's laws.
And if the original of "Bells" is public domain, it cannot subsequently be claimed and recopyrighted by anyone ALTHOUGH an arrangement can be, and that is clearly what Willhousky did--no legal shenanigans involved at all.  (The exception is clearly the granting of copyright ex post facto to certain Soviet works that originally were not covered by copyrights, but that is a VERY unusual situation which some musicians still refuse to accept.)
All the best,
on June 23, 2011 6:43am
I believe the original carol is Ukranian, not Russian.  There's a lot of info on the web if you spell it Shchedryk, less under Schedrik.  Some of it may even be accurate!  The Wikipedia article is pretty interesting.
When my choir was in Kiev 20 years ago we were told that the original carol was performed quite slowly, in 3/4 roughly quarter = 72.  Quite a different effect from our in-one US tradition.  The Ukranian gentlemen told me that it was only when American choirs started coming over and singing it faster and faster that the "fast" tradition began.  I don't know that this man was an expert but it sure is interesting.  I've always wanted to do the Ukranian version (slow) followed by the Wilhousky version in a concert, but...
on June 23, 2011 9:36am
I think it ironic that the current copyright holder would insist on its rights, as Wilhousky never asked Leontovich for permission nor paid anything to make his "arrangement" due to the state of relations between the US and the Soviet Union at the time. It seems to me to be an instance of "unclean hands" (as we say in the legal community!) 
That being said, the copyright is legally enforceable. Write some new words! The Wihousky ones are not all that inspiring in any event....
Jeff DeMarco
on June 23, 2011 11:19am
If you're willing to contemplate other words than Wilhousky's, then you might be interested in this SATB version, using Leontov's arrangement of the tune, published by Canasg Music.
Our words, beginning Good news I bring, stay close to the sense of the original Ukrainian (which we can also supply), and consequently have nothing to do with Christmas. It is part of a carol-singing tradition in which a party of revellers would move from one house to another, singing seasonal songs and hoping to extract lavish hospitality from their involuntary hosts. Some of the songs would be religious, some would tell the Christmas story, some (like Good news) would predict every kind of good fortune in the coming year, and some would simply flatter, flirt and wheedle for a generous donation.
We publish a full set of fifteen, arranged by Vladimir Morozov, with English words, and Good news I bring is the last of the set (or available separately). The set as a whole is very much a Christmas piece, and runs for over 30 minutes. We also offer the set in an SSA arrangement.
If you follow the links, you'll find that you can see and download perusal copies. We sell sheet music in PDF format, delivered by e-mail, with a licence to print as many copies, and as often, as you like. The copies are for the exclusive use of one ensemble, and the licence doesn't let you give, lend, hire or sell them to anybody else.
on June 25, 2011 11:33am
Thanks for all the input.  Earlier, I found a site that seemed to indicate the text was public domain but I was apparently mistaken.  I've gone to the "last resort" and sent an email to Carl Fischer.
BTW:  First time I've ever used choralnet for this purpose.  Pretty impressive tool.
on October 25, 2012 4:20pm
This is NOT a traditional carol. The original music by Leontovich (1877 - 1921) was composed in 1916 and is titled Shchedryk. However, the carol arrangement that everyone knows is by Peter Wilhousky (1902 - 1978), and as it was arranged in 1936 it is still protected (by copyright).,_arr._Peter_Wilhousky)
...hope this helps a little.
Jan Kohler
Artistic Director
Orange County (NY)
  • You must log in or register to be able to reply to this message.