Icelandic Folk Singers Break Into an Impromptu Performance of a 13th Century Hymn in a Train Station, and It’s Delightful

Ice­landic folk group Árstíðir know a good acoustic cathe­dral when they see one, even when it’s in a train sta­tion. In the above video, the sex­tet was return­ing from a con­cert in Wup­per­tal, Ger­many, when they were struck by the acoustic prop­er­ties of this one sec­tion of the train ter­mi­nal.

Indeed, this was a fine place to stop and offer a spe­cial encore to their show, a per­for­mance of the ear­ly 13th cen­tu­ry Ice­landic hymn “Heyr him­na smiður” (“Hear, Smith of Heav­ens”) by Kol­beinn Tuma­son.

Hear­ing this music strips away the con­crete and the indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion and we are sud­den­ly back in the mists of time…even when the tan­noy speak­ers in the back­ground announce a train depar­ture. In fact, it just adds anoth­er lay­er of atmos­phere to this beau­ti­ful work. The sparse crowd stops and just lis­tens. It’s a beau­ti­ful video that has earned over six mil­lion views in the near­ly four years it has been online.

Com­pos­er Kol­beinn Tuma­son is best known for this hymn–you can see a trans­la­tion of the lyrics here–and was both a deeply reli­gious man and one of the most pow­er­ful chief­tains in Ice­land. He met his mak­er at age 34 in a bat­tle between reli­gious and sec­u­lar clans, where his head was bashed in by a rock. Still, the his­to­ry goes, he held on long enough to write this hymn on his deathbed, and it remains an oft-per­formed work.

Hope­ful­ly no such bat­tle­field fate awaits the group Árstíðir, who formed in Reyk­javik in 2008 and con­tin­ue to per­form, though their style is clos­er to Fleet Fox­es than this 13th cen­tu­ry times­lip might indi­cate.

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via Atlas Obscu­ra

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Learn What Old Norse Sound­ed Like, with UC Berkeley’s “Cow­boy Pro­fes­sor, Dr. Jack­son Craw­ford

Wear­able Books: In Medieval Times, They Took Old Man­u­scripts & Turned Them into Clothes

The Mys­ti­cal Poet­ry of Rumi Read By Til­da Swin­ton, Madon­na, Robert Bly & Cole­man Barks

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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Comments (4)
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  • Ronny says:

    This is love­ly, thank you.

  • Sara says:

    Tear induc­ing beau­ty. Thank you to the singers and the site for post­ing this impromp­tu per­for­mance.

  • JV says:

    There is noth­ing like choral music. It strikes deep­er into the core of what it means to be human than any oth­er music, for some rea­son. Just human voic­es in har­mo­ny. Beau­ti­ful.

  • Gummi says:

    It’s actu­al­ly not a thir­teenth cen­tu­ry hymn. The poem is by Kol­beinn, and is indeed com­posed in the 13th cen­tu­ry. The music is con­tem­po­rary, com­posed by Þorkell Sig­ur­b­jörns­son in the 1950’s or 60’s.

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