The history of music in Iceland has no parallel in other European countries, or, probably, anywhere else in the world. In Iceland the music of the "Middle Ages" predominated well into the nineteenth century. Due to Iceland's isolation, centuries of musical development on the European continent had gone by unnoticed. Even ordinary four-part choral singing was first heard in the fifth decade of the 19th century. Instrumental music, in the usual sense of that term, was non-existent.
When the "new" music finally found its way to Iceland, the population, with certain exceptions, especially as regards church music, proved to be more receptive than might have been expected. Latent creative talent soon emerged, and musical development has been exceedingly rapid in the twentieth century. In the 1980’s Icelandic music was on the world music map with the emergence of artists such as the Sugarcubes. In more recent years Iceland has seen international success of many more artists, such as Sigur Rós.
Jón Leifs (1899-1968) is one of Iceland’s best known classical composer writing many of his works about Icelandic nature which bore titles such as Hekla, Dettifoss and Geysir. The Iceland Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1950 and was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2009. Pianist Víkingur Ólafsson has garnered an international reputation as well as cellist Sæunn Þorsteinsdóttir and Daníel Bjarnason, a young classical composer and conductor.
Iceland has many annual music festivals. The most recognised festival is Iceland Airwaves which started out in 1999 in an airplane hangar in Reykjavík. The festival showcases the Icelandic rock/pop/electro music scene along with numerous international acts. The festival takes place in October each year and is very popular as tickets are typically sold out weeks before it’s commencement. Among other festivals are I Never Went South, classical music festival Dark Music Days, hard rock festival Eistnaflug, Reykjavík Blues Festival, Reykjavík Jazz Festival and many more.
Check out www.icelandmusic.is for more information about Icelandic music.