Dr. Kristin Jónína Taylor presented at the 11th Annual International Conference on Visual and Performing Art in Athens, Greece, which took place virtually on June 8th and 9th this summer. Her topic was “Now the Sun Sinks in the Sea: The Sacred and Religious Works of Þorkell Sigurbjönsson.” This topic continues a long-term project Dr. Taylor has undertaken for the past 7 years.
Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson’s contributions to Icelandic music were manifold, encompassing teaching, composition, arts administration, music criticism, radio program hosting, solo and chamber performance, conducting, and countless other accomplishments. He remains the most prolific of all Icelandic composers with over 350 compositions. Those works for which Þorkell is best known are his exquisite sacred works, of which there are at least fifty.
The paper focused on Þorkell’s sacred works and his greater impact on Icelandic music through these remarkable compositions. Þorkell had familial connections with the Iceland Lutheran Church (both his father and brother were Bishop of Iceland, and several of his siblings were ministers in the church). A number of his compositions were settings of his father’s poetry, including the hymn and choral work “Nú hverfur sól í haf.” The most notable and possibly most remarkable of his hymns is “Heyr, himna smiður,” a setting of a 13th century hymn text by Kolbeinn Tumason, which went viral across Facebook, YouTube, and other social media through a performance by Árstíðir. Other prominent works include several choral settings of Psalms of David, solo vocal and choral compositions observing important holidays in the church year, a Missa Brevis, and the oratorio “Immanúel,” which was based on text by Þorkell’s brother Bishop Karl Sigurbjörnsson. The sacred works Þorkell wrote are not restricted to choral compositions, as there are several works using the organ, including “Blessed Be the Feet of the Peacemaker,” a composition written only for the organ pedals.