Jón Leifs

Biography

Born: May 1, 1899; Sólheimer Farm   Died: July 30, 1968; Reykjavik, Iceland  
Jón Leifs was a highly individual voice who ushered in a style of Icelandic nationalism in music, much the way Sibelius did in Finland. Not that his music sounded anything like that of Sibelius: Leifs was a modernist, perhaps not as radical as Schoenberg and his disciples, but a creator of imaginative, often compelling scores that were not easily accessible. His music typically features string tremolos, chordal progressions that evolve Read more slowly, frequent use of parallel fifths, as well as thirds and fourths, and an often harsh and primitive sound. He also frequently used folk melodies and styles, and like Bartók, made several efforts to collect folk themes. As an orchestrator he set himself apart from most of his contemporaries in his colorful manner of scoring and use of primitive-sounding percussion instruments: anvil, chains, and even rocks. His choral and vocal writing is often just as unusual, making enormous demands on the performer, with challenging leaps and uncomfortably high notes, as well as other bewildering requirements. While Leifs' music is not internationally popular, many of his compositions are available on recordings, and renewed interest in his works since the late twentieth century augurs well for his future reputation.

Leifs was born in Sólheimar, Iceland, on May 1, 1899. From 1916 he studied composition at the Leipzig Conservatory in Germany with Aládar Szendrei and Paul Graener. He also studied piano and conducting there, and graduated in 1921.

Leifs mostly lived in Germany from 1916-1944 and ran afoul of the Nazis during the latter years of this period, owing to his marriage to Jewish pianist Annie Riethof and to his progressive-sounding music. His 1941 Organ Concerto received a poor reception and afterwards little of his music was played in Germany. After settling in Sweden in 1944, Leifs and his wife divorced, and he returned to Iceland in 1945. Following the drowning death of his daughter in 1947, Leifs was inspired to write several important compositions, including the string quartet Vita et Mors and the moving choral work Requiem.

The 1950s were a turbulent time for Leifs: because of the poor reception of several older works, including the Saga-Symphony (1941-1942), he lost all confidence in his compositional skills; in addition, his second marriage failed. Leifs rebounded after he married again (1956) and thereafter produced a string of highly imaginative works, including the massive tone poem for orchestra and chorus, Hekla (1961). Read less

There are 32 Jón Leifs recordings available.

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Works

Jón Leifs


MOST POPULAR WORKS
Act I: Dance of the Creatures of the Earth
Act I: The Creation of Man
Act I: Nanna
Act I: Hurricane
Act I: The Chosen Warriors
Act I: The Wedding
Act I: Dance-Finale
I. Allegretto
II. Tempo giusto
III. Allegro moderato ed energico
IV. Allegro vivace
I. Fegurd himinsins
II. Vixlspor
III. Klettar
I. Valse lento
II. Islandisches Praeludium (Island farsaelda fron)
III. Islandische Ballade (Rimnalag)
IV. Islandisches Scherzo (Rimnakvida)
I. Bernska (Childhood): Scherzo
II. Aeska (Youth)
III. Salumessa, Eilifd (Requiem and Eternity)
I. Toledo
II. Vision of El Greco 's self-portrait
III. Jesus drives the money-changers from the temple
IV. The Crucifixion
V. The Resurraction
I. Maninn lidur (Moon Song)
II. Vogguvisa (Lullaby)
Tveir Songar (Two Songs), Op. 14a: II: Vogguvisa (Lullaby) (Text: Johann Jonsson)
Thema: Adagio e molto cantabile
Variation I: L'istesso tempo
Variation II: L'istesso tempo, quasi grave, ossia pochettino meno mosso
Variation III: Allegro
Variation IV: Allegro scherzando
Variation V: Moderato
Variation VI: Moderato alla marcia
Variation VII: Allegro molto ma energico
Variation VIII: Allegro vivace e brillante
Variation IX: Quasi grave
Variation [X]: Finale (Reprise): Adagio cantabile ma animato
WORKS
Act I: Dance of the Creatures of the Earth
Act I: The Creation of Man
Act I: Nanna
Act I: Hurricane
Act I: The Chosen Warriors
Act I: The Wedding
Act I: Dance-Finale
I. Introduction: Allegro moderato
II. Passacaglia: Tempo moderato
III. Finale
I. Praeludium (Allegro molto)
II. Mimodrama (Andante, ma non troppo)
III. Invocation (Saeringar) (Allegro moderato, ma agitato)
IV. Marcia funebre (Molto moderato, ma alla marcia, sempre accentuato)
V. Finale (Allegro furioso ma energico)
I. Moderato, maestoso, ma animato
II. Andante
III. Allegro spirituoso
IV. Adagio
V. Larghetto
VI. Allegro furioso
VII. Andante
I. Allegretto
II. Tempo giusto
III. Allegro moderato ed energico
IV. Allegro vivace
I. Largo maestoso
II. Allegretto
III. Allegro
IV. Presto
V. Andante
VI. Allegretto
VII. Allegro molto
VIII. Maestoso ed energico
IX. Allegro e molto ritmico
X. Tempo di marcia e grandioso
XI. Andante funebre
XII. Andante
XIII. Allegro
XIV. Prestissimo
XV. Adagio serioso
XVI. Allegretto
XVII. Andante
XVIII. Allegro
XIX. Allegro giocoso
XX. Andante religioso e molto divoto
XXI. Allegro ritmico
XXII. Presto
XXIII. Andante serioso
XXIV. Allegro
XXV. Allegro maestoso
I. Fegurd himinsins
II. Vixlspor
III. Klettar
I. Allegretto
II. Allegro
I. Valse lento
II. Islandisches Praeludium (Island farsaelda fron)
III. Islandische Ballade (Rimnalag)
IV. Islandisches Scherzo (Rimnakvida)
I. Bernska (Childhood): Scherzo
II. Aeska (Youth)
III. Salumessa, Eilifd (Requiem and Eternity)
I. Toledo
II. Vision of El Greco 's self-portrait
III. Jesus drives the money-changers from the temple
IV. The Crucifixion
V. The Resurraction
I. Maninn lidur (Moon Song)
II. Vogguvisa (Lullaby)
Tveir Songar (Two Songs), Op. 14a: II: Vogguvisa (Lullaby) (Text: Johann Jonsson)
I. Njals Saga: Skarphedinn
II. Laxdaela Saga: Gudrun Osvifrsdottir
III. Njals Saga: Bjorn ad baki Kara, Scherzo
IV. Grettis Saga: Glamr og Grettir, Intermezzo
V. Fostbraedra Saga and Heimskringla: Tormodr Kolbrunarskald
I. Praeludium
II. Intermezzo
III. Finale
Thema: Adagio e molto cantabile
Variation I: L'istesso tempo
Variation II: L'istesso tempo, quasi grave, ossia pochettino meno mosso
Variation III: Allegro
Variation IV: Allegro scherzando
Variation V: Moderato
Variation VI: Moderato alla marcia
Variation VII: Allegro molto ma energico
Variation VIII: Allegro vivace e brillante
Variation IX: Quasi grave
Variation [X]: Finale (Reprise): Adagio cantabile ma animato


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