Jon Leifs - Iceland's composer

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Jon Leifs - Iceland's composer

Post by Febnyc » Tue Oct 02, 2007 7:30 pm

We've had some contributions here about the Icelandic composer Jon Leifs (1899-1968). These, for the most part, focused on his powerful orchestral music - music which conjures up visions of the Edda, the lowering skies of Iceland and its volcanic landscape.

For a different view of this interesting composer, I recommend the BIS disc of his three string quartets. Each one of these chamber works is fascinating and thematically based. Much of the music comes from his life experiences - the underpinning of which was his having to flee Hitler's Germany because Leif's wife was Jewish and Leif's subsequent humiliation when no one was interested in his work.

The first quartet, subtitled Mors et vita, is in a single movement. It is based upon an ancient Icelandic song, but has sections which seem to describe explosions and falling bombs (it was composed in 1939). It is steeped in sorrow and despair.

The second is named Vita et mors. Leif's daughter, Lif ("life" in Icelandic), tragically drowned while swimming. This work is a sort of a Requiem for Leif's lost child and has some excruciatingly personal utterances in it. It always resonates with me - as, I believe, it would with anyone who is a parent.

The third quartet also has a caption and it is El Greco. Each of the five movements depicts an aspect of the artist's life. The opening one, "Toledo," is a brilliant picure-in-music of the famous painting. The fourth, a slow chorale, is a mini tone poem of The Crucifixion.

These quartets are not for the faint of heart; like most of Leif's music they are, at times, brutal. And they are complex and need dedicated listening. But Leif's quartets have so much inherent power and emotion that it is hard not to be unsettled by their burning passions.

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Post by Donaldopato » Fri Oct 05, 2007 9:21 pm

A hearty Second to this post. I had a chance to listen to these works this evening and was most impressed. Each was wonderful but the first op 21 "Mors et Vita" is outstanding.
Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. - Albert Einstein

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