Many of you outside Iceland will already be aware of the ancient hymn 'Heyr himna smiður', not I suspect because you’re experts on 12th century Icelandic ecclesiastical history, but predominantly because of Indie band Árstíðir performing an impromptu version of the song in a German railway station whilst having a beer after a gig. The video went viral and this is it here.
Within Iceland the hymn is very well known. The words were originally written by the powerful chieftain and apparent poet Kolbeinn Tumason on his deathbed in 1208, after he was slain at ‘The Battle of Víðines’ by the legendary bishop and rival 'Guðmundur the Good'. I don’t think Tumason regarded him as that ‘good’, although the life of Guðmundur is worthy of mention, mainly because he apparently lived to the age of 76 – which is astonishing given that in that era there were more deaths per square mile each day than the poor residents in the village of Midsomer experienced over 22 series.
Anyway I should point out that the music to Tumason’s words were composed comparatively recently by Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson, and now the renowned British vocal group VOCES8 have released a version too. Having previously performed compositions by Ólafur Arnalds amongst others, they’ve released 'Heyr himna smiður' as part of their diverse repertoire, which includes working with the likes of Academy of Ancient Music and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. They’re also prestigious tourers, so we're more than happy to give them a mention as the last year can’t have been easy for them.
Of course nothing will ever better the spontaneity of the Árstíðir performance, but If you want to relax and hear the beauty of Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson’s composition with excellent sound, then I do recommend giving this a listen. And I’m sure an Icelandic reader will point me in the direction of a really good authentic recording from their own country too.
You can find VOCES8 here.
Of course Árstíðir are worth listening to for their outstanding indie folk music, and they will be releasing a new song entitled 'Meanderings' later this week.. They will be touring again before the end of the year, and you can find details here. If the travel situation is better I might even try and get across to one of the gigs.
'Guðmundur the Good' doesn't do social media, but his story is fascinating, apparently once lifting a curse on an island which had previously resulted in women disappearing after 20 years of marriage. I still suspect foul play. Apologies if I have any of the history wrong, and for more details I think this seems like a good source here.