Last week, Jón Leifs’s Hekla was broadcast as part of the Composer of the Week series, devoted, not to a single composer for once, but to a whole country – Iceland. In 1926 a tectonic shift occurred when the country hosted its first ever orchestral concert, conducted by Leifs who had been studying and working in Germany for the previous ten years. The result was a long, slow eruption of musical creativity across all genres, and the flow continues, as the four-part series showed.
Hekla depicts the 1947 eruption of the volcano of that name, which Leifs witnessed. The mountain already had a fearsome reputation stretching back to 1104 when a huge eruption led to a belief throughout Europe that Hekla was the gateway to Hell – a belief that only died out at the approach of the 20th century.
Programme presenter Donald Macleod describes Hekla - which is scored for a full orchestra with nineteen percussionists and an organ, along with a choir -as “probably the loudest piece of music ever written” and fittingly chooses it to close his survey of the music of Iceland.
it's some kind of energy that you get from experiencing sublime beauty in nature
The pity is, from the original five-part series broadcast last year these repeats do not include episode two, featuring the septuagenarian Sveinsson as Icelandic music's wickedly mischievous provocateur-in-chief. A composer able and willing to compose in almost any style, from Baroque to avant-garde to hip hop, we sadly do not get hear Sveinsson's postmodernist fantasy, Icelandic Rap.
Composer of the Week: Iceland is available on IPlayer for seven days from each broadcast, therefore expiring in turn between Monday and Friday next week.
Prom 48: Classical Tectonics was broadcast live on Friday 22 August and is available for 30 days on iPlayer
A conversation between expert in Nordic sagas Eleanor Rosamond Barraclough and novelist Joanna Kavenna looked at Icelandic culture as part of the Proms Plus Literary festival and is available on iPlayer here.