Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych (Ukrainian: Микола Дмитрович Леонтович) (born December 13 [O.S. December 1] 1877; died January 23, 1921) was a Ukrainian composer, choral conductor, and teacher of international renown. Leontovych is recognized for composing Shchedryk in 1916, known to the English speaking world as Carol of the Bells or as Ring Christmas Bells.
Birth and early life
Mykola Leontovych was born on December 13 [O.S. December 1] 1877 in the Monastyrok community near the village of Selevyntsi in the Podillya region of Ukraine. His father was a village priest, skilled at playing cello, violin, and guitar, in addition to directing a school choir. Leontovych received his first musical lessons from him.
In 1887, Leontovych was admitted to Nemyriv gymnasium. However only a year later, due to financial problems, his father transferred him to the Sharhorod Spiritual Beginners School, where pupils were financially fully supported. At the school, Leontovych mastered singing, and was able to freely read difficult passages from religious choral texts.
From 1892 until 1899, Mykola Leontovych attended the theological seminary in Kamianets-Podilskyi, where he sang in choir, began to study Ukrainian music, and began his first attempts at choral arranging. After teaching at schools throughout Ukraine, including in the guberniyas of Kiev, Yekaterinoslav, and Podolia, he moved on to study music. He was married to Lydia Pawlenko for three years.
Career in music
In the spring of 1904, he left the Podillya and moved to the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, where he became a teacher of voice and music in a school for children of railroad workers. During the Russian Revolution of 1905, Leontovych organized a choir of workers that performed in meetings. Leontovych's activity caught the attention of local authorities, and he was forced to move back to the city of Tulchyn, Podillya, where he taught music and voice at the Tulchyn Eparchy Women's college to the daughters of village priests. Leontovych further pursued his musical education in Saint Petersburg, where he earned his credentials as a choirmaster of church choruses. From 1909, he studied under famous musical theoretic Boleslav Yavorsky, whom he periodically visited in Moscow and Kiev (Kyiv).
During that time, he created numerous choral arrangements, namely Shchedryk, but also «Піють півні», «Мала мати одну дочку», «Дударик», «Ой зійшла зоря» and others. In Tulchyn, he met the composer Kyrylo Stetsenko. In 1916, with the choir of the Kiev University he performed his arrangement of Shchedryk, which brought him great success from the public in Kiev. In 1918, at a period of short-lived Ukrainian independence, Leontovych began teaching at the Kiev Conservatory as well as the Mykola Lysenko Institute of Music and Drama.
During the night of January 22–23, 1921, Mykola Leontovych was murdered by Chekist (Soviet state security) agent Victor Grishchenko at the home of his parents.
Mykola Leontovych's is remembered today mostly because of the body of musical works he left behind, including over 150 choral compositions which range from artistic arrangements of folk songs, religious works (including his liturgy), cantatas, and choral compositions set to the texts of various Ukrainian poets.
Leontovych also started work on a Ukrainian opera (Na rusalchyn velykden’ - On the Water Nymph's Easter) based on the writing of Borys Hrinchenko, however, he did not complete it. The opera was completed by composer Myroslav Skoryk in 1978.
Leontovych had a very artistic and original style of composing. His choral compositions feature rich harmony, vocal polyphony, and imitation. As the composer gained more experience in his career, the structure of his choral compositions and arrangements of folk songs became much more strongly related to the text.