Friday, 23 February 2018

Dances in the dark

Musical discovery of the week, courtesy of BBC Radio 3; Icelandic Dances, Opus 11, by Jón Leifs. Maybe it sounds characteristically Icelandic, but without anything else Icelandic to compare it to (other than Björk), I wouldn't really know.

To my ears, the first dance has a slight Chinese quality (or at least the quality of a Western pastiche of Chinse music), while the second definitely has a Scottish feel, as if the players were imitating bagpipes.

My favourite, though, is the wild, raw theme in the third dance,* which alternates with contrasting quiet, pastoral passages. I don't know whether it's typically Icelandic, but it's certainly got an epic quality that would provide an appropriately steely soundtrack to implacable Atlantic storms, longships** and erupting volcanoes:

*"Allegro moderato ed energico"and 7' 45" in, if you want to skip to the best bit (IMO).

* *"their bloodbeaked prows riding low on a molten pewter surf", to quote Joyce's fantastic line from Ulysses.