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Is Iceland the world's most musical country?

Iceland's world-class musical exports belie its tiny population. Tom Service visits Reykjavik to discover the secret behind Iceland's thriving music scene.

In this week's Music Matters Tom Service visits Reykjavik to ask whether Iceland is the most musical country in the world?

With a population of just 350,000 Iceland still boasts multi-million-selling pop acts like Sigur Ros and Bjork, a world class orchestra, Oscar-winning composers, countless music festivals as well as a vibrant and world renowned contemporary music scene.

And all these different genres seem to intertwine with each other effortlessly - so Tom is in Reykjavik to discover what the country's musical secret is.

He drops into the Dark Music Days festival, an annual festival of new music which takes place in the darkest period of winter, to ask composers and musicians why their new music scene is the envy of the world.

One of their most successful artists is the award winning multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer Olafur Arnalds. Olafur blends classical, pop and electonica and the result is sell-out tours - Tom meets him at his Reykjavik studio to find out how he defines his music and why he sees the heart of Iceland's music not in its nature, but in its people.

Aside from the country's professional scene, amateur music making is also thriving - particularly in choirs. Tom meets the Karlakórinn Esja a young, local male-voice choir who meet every Wednesday night to sing together - they tell Tom why being in a choir is something Icelanders need to do. And he learns about the folk history behind Icelanders' love of singing from the ancient Rimur.

And composers and experts talk about the importance of landscape in Icelandic music - from the early 20th-century composer Jon Leifs to Anna Thorvaldsdottir, one of the country's acclaimed young composers. Is Icelandic music really all about nature or is it all just a marketing scam?

Available now

44 minutes


  • Dark Music Days festival ( Gunnar Karel Másson / Nordic Affect)

    Duration: 08:19

  • Iceland's Musical History (Ingibjörg Eyþórsdóttir)

    Duration: 12:33

  • Olafur Arnalds

    Duration: 09:30

  • Landscape in Icelandic music (Anna Thorvaldsdottir / Árni Heimir Ingólfsson)

    Duration: 09:44


Role Contributor
Presenter Tom Service
Interviewed Guest Daniel Bjarnason
Interviewed Guest Olafur Arnalds


  • Sat 3 Feb 2018 12:15
  • Mon 5 Feb 2018 22:00

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