Choral activities in Iceland
Thorgerdur Ingólfsdóttir, member of the World Choir Council, reports on choral singing in her home country.
"Choral activity in Iceland is very popular. There are over 300 choirs, children´s choirs, mixed choirs, men´s choirs, women´s choirs, church choirs, with more than 9,000 choir members. There is hardly a community in the country that does not have one or more active choirs. The population of Iceland today is 325.000.
The history of choral activity in Iceland does not date far back although various religious singing, congregational singing, the Icelandic twin song and ballad-singing have been practiced throughout the centuries. The first public performance of a choir was around the middle of the 19th century, the singing of male students at the first Icelandic grammar school, the Latin School in Reykjavík. The first mixed choir was also formed in Reykjavík, in 1862. This marked the beginning of a flourishing choral life in which the church has been a solid backbone throughout the years. The founding of choirs gave an incentive to composition but musically trained people were few. For a long time it was only the conductors of the choirs who were the composers of the music that was sung.
During the years 1950 - 1960 a new and productive era began in Icelandic choral music. Two major choirs were founded, The Philharmonic Choir, which performed with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra (founded 1950) and the Polyphonic Choir. For the first time Icelanders heard performances of choral music of the 16th and 17th centuries and the major choral works of Bach were introduced in Iceland. By initiative of the Polyphonic Choir composition of choral music was stimulated and Icelandic composers were encouraged to write new music and it was performed. In 1967 the Hamrahlíð College Choir in Reykjavík was founded and the last 30 years this choir of young students has acted as a kind of experimental workshop for many Icelandic composers. Over 100 choral works have been composed for them and many of these pieces have become a repertoire for the Icelandic choirs.
In the rich flora of Icelandic choirs today, may be mentioned the chamber choirs Hljómeyki, Hymnodia and Schola Cantorum, and the church choirs the Choir of Langholtskirkja and the Motet Choir of Hallgrímskirkja. The big church, Hallgrímskirkja is together with the new, great and modern concert hall Harpa the best concert venues in Iceland. Many choral concerts are in both of these places, which are excellent for music performances.
Although the history of Icelandic choral music is a short one, it shows a fine healthy growth. The last 60 years have proved that Icelandic interest in choral music is strong, and our composers have responded to the interest. Over this tract of the Icelandic cultural landscape the skies are bright and unclouded."