Björn Ólafsson

Radio programs from the Ice­land­ic State Radio. Intro­duct­ions in Ice­land­ic by Hlíf Sigur­jóns­dótt­ir:

    • April 13th 2017
    • April 14th 2017

Björn Ólafsson was born in Reykjavík in 1917, at the dawn of the classical music scene in Ice­land. At the age of seven, he was given a toy violin and was so taken by it that his mother found him a violin teacher; Þór­ar­inn (Thór­ar­inn) Guð­munds­son (b. 1896) who had studied in Copen­hag­en. Þór­ar­inn was the first Ice­land­er to study and finish a degree in violin playing.

    In 1930 the very first music school in Reykja­vík was found­ed and Björn, at 13, was in the first group to at­tend it. His teach­ers there were both from Vienna, Karl Heller and Hans Steph­an­ek. Björn gradu­at­ed from the Reykjavík Music School in the spring of 1934 and that same fall he moved to Vienna to furth­er his violin stud­ies at the Vienna Uni­ver­sity of Music. His teach­ers were Hofrat Mayr­ick­er and profes­sor Ernst Mora­vec. After grad­uat­ing cum laude in the spring of 1939, he was im­medi­ate­ly of­fer­ed a pos­it­ion in the first violin sect­ion of the Vienna Phil­har­mon­ic, which at that time played under the baton of Wil­helm Furt­wängl­er.

    Björn returned to Ice­land that summ­er to visit friends and family be­fore tak­ing this pos­it­ion, but the Second World War broke out that fall, pre­vent­ing him from re­turn­ing to Vienna. Björn turn­ed all his energy to mus­ical edu­cat­ion in Ice­land. He be­came the main violin teach­er of the Reykja­vík Music School, the head of the string de­part­ment and the found­er of the school orch­estra. With pianist Árni Krist­jáns­son, he gave num­er­ous re­citals in Reykja­vík and around the country, and fre­quent­ly their visits led to local music so­ciet­ies being establish­ed.

    In 1931 the Music Society of Reykja­vík was found­ed by a group of citi­zens of Reykja­vík to pro­mote clas­sical mus­ic in Ice­land. They be­came the main sup­port­ers of the Reykja­vík Music School and sup­port­ed and org­an­iz­ed con­certs and even sup­port­ed the Orch­estra of Reykja­vík, where Björn was the con­cert­mast­er. In the fall of 1945 the Music Society of Reykja­vík in­vit­ed viol­in­ist Adolf Busch and his son in law Rudolf Serkin to play some con­certs in Ice­land. That visit was of great im­port­ance for Björn be­cause Busch in­vit­ed him to come and study with him. In 1947−48 Björn stay­ed in the U.S. study­ing with Adolf Busch and even had the chance to play in Busch's string quart­et.

    After re­turn­ing to Ice­land Björn, along with his teach­ing obli­gat­ions, found­ed a string quart­et whose main pur­pose was to play weekly live broad­casts on the State Radio. Among the first music they play­ed were all six of Beet­hoven's opus 18 quart­ets. This col­labor­at­ion with the State Radio only last­ed for a couple of years, but the quart­et ex­ist­ed for the next two dec­ades. The Ice­land Sym­phony Orch­estra was found­ed in 1950 and Björn was the con­cert­mast­er, a pos­it­ion he held until 1972. Björn died in Reykja­vík in 1984.

Björn Ólafs­son was one of the pione­ers of clas­sical mus­ic in Ice­land, some­one who, with his hard work and id­eals, en­rich­ed our cult­ur­al life, so that the Ice­land­ic nation would be­come cult­urally com­peti­tive with other Euro­pean nati­ons.