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 and Of Monsters and Men.

Classical music

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.


The Icelandic Opera performs in Reykjavík and produces about two operas a year.  Tenors Gardar Thor Cortez, Kristján Jóhannsson and bass Kristinn Sigmundsson are particularly well known.  


Mezzoforte is Iceland’s best known Jazz group but Iceland has many talented jazz artists such as Pétur Östlund, Skúli Sverrisson and Björn Thoroddsen.

Contemporary Music

Iceland’s best known contemporary music artist is Björk – the former vocalist of the Sugarcubes. Other famous singers and groups include Sigur Rós, Of Monsters and Men, Múm, Gus Gus, Emiliana Torrini, Asgeir Trausti and Mugison,

Music festivals

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 November 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.

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