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

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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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  • 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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