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Björgvin Guðmundsson - Teacher, Composer, Conductor

This is one of three articles focusing on Icelanders who left for the West, North America, and returned to Iceland. Björgvin Guðmundsson always believed he would be a composer. His formidable musical gift bestowed upon us compositions for voice and instrument often reflecting the sights and sounds of Iceland.

By Bryndís Víglundsdóttir

Björgvin Guðmundsson - Teacher, Composer, Conductor
Björgvin Guðmundsson - Teacher, Composer, Conductor

Björgvin Guðmundsson I524645 (1891-1962) was born at Rjúpnafell in Vopnafjörður where his parents farmed. While he was still a child, he showed much interest in music, but the opportunities to study music and develop his evident gifts were slim in the valley's isolation. His parents managed to buy an organ, and the boy began to practice and write his first music on that organ. During those years, he told people that he was going to be a composer, which people thought was rather amusing.

The family moved West in 1911 and settled in Winnipeg. Now the world of music opened up for Björgvin. He studied music theory, played the piano, and got acquainted with complicated music works. Soon he was involved in the music scene of the Icelandic community in and around Winnipeg, sang in choirs, conducted choirs, and led The Icelandic Choral Society performing during Icelandic celebrations and meetings.

Björgvin's fellow Icelanders in Canada appreciated his dedication and good work and decided to give him a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music in London. He stayed in London for two years with his wife, Hólmfríður Frímann, a Western Icelander whom he had married in 1923.

Returning to Winnipeg, his days were more than filled with music work, teaching and directing choirs, being a church organist, and composing!

In 1931 the council of Akureyri invited him to move to Akureyri to become the primary music teacher of the township, teaching the children in the grade school and the students in the Akureyri College. (Menntaskólinn á Akureyri)

Björgvin and Hólmfríður moved “home” and made their permanent home in Akureyri.

Wherever Björgvin lived, he became deeply involved in the music scene. This was, of course, true about his Akureyri years. He taught in the schools, and besides, he was the organist at the Church of Akureyri. Where music was involved, one could think that there was no limit to his goals and drive. Thus, he established the Kantatakór Akureyrar (The Cantata Choir of Akureyri), focusing on performing major music works, cantatas, and oratorios. It is tempting to think that he might have listened to the Royal Choral Society during his stay in London and thought such a choir at Akureyri would be a good idea. There was no need to worry about finding the voices for such a choir in the small community as Akureyri was at that time. It seems in Björgvin´s case that obstacles were to be overcome.

Björgvin managed to create a magnificent choir, the Kantatakór. He took them to Norway to perform and compete in a European choir competition, and Kantatakór won the second prize! Björgvin conducted the Kantatakór until 1955.

At this point in his life, he took up quite a bit of travelling and visited, among other places, his former home in Vopnafjörður. He also went to Canada, where he was welcomed with much warmth.

Björgvin died in 1961 and rests in the Akureyri cemetery.

Björgvin gave the Icelandic nation a wealth of beautiful music, over 600 titles, and both choir and instrumental and vocal music.

One of his most loved works is titled Íslands lag- Iceland´s Song, text by Grímur Thomsen:

Íslands lag

Heyrið vella' á heiðum hveri,

heyrið álftir syngja' í veri.

Íslands er það lag.

Heyrið fljót á flúðum duna,

foss í klettaskorum bruna.

Íslands er það lag.

Eða fugl í eyjum kvaka,

undir klöpp og skútar taka.

Íslands er það lag.

Heyrið brim á björgum svarra,

bylji þjóta, svipi snarra.

Íslands er það lag.

Og í sjálfs þíns brjósti bundnar,

blunda raddir náttúrunnar

Íslands eigið lag.

Innst í þínum eigin barnmi,

eins í gleði' og eins í harmi,

ymur Íslands lag.

To hear this beautiful song, go to:

The poet describes the sounds and the music in Icelandic nature, the hot springs, the whooping of the swans on the heaths, the heavy rumble of the glacial rivers, the surf at the cliffs, and the snowstorm raging - all these sounds, Iceland´s song, all that music is in your own heart.

Björgvin identified with the sounds of Iceland and composed such music to these words that Icelanders, young and old, hear the sounds of Iceland through his music.

To hear another song by his choir go to: Norway Performance


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