Voces Thules

The Icelandic ensemble Voces Thules was founded in 1992 and began performing medieval and renaissance music. Furthermore the ensemble premiered new pieces by many renowned contemporary Icelandic composers. At the time very little had been performed from old musical sources in Iceland, but more and more material was brought forward during the last decades of the 20th century by scholars that had not been noticed during the many centuries long and extensive research on the history of Icelandic and Nordic litterature. The music of medieval Iceland soon became the groups main focus rapidly extending from their performance, recordings and publishing of the complete Office of St. Thorlak, bishop in Skálholt in the 12th century and Icelands first and only legitimate saint of the Roman Catholic Church. They have enjoied the assistance and consultation of many scholars throughout this work. Amongst them is the Gregorian chant specialist brother Daniel Saulnier of the Solesmes monastery in France. This publication by VT, a book, 3 CDs and a DVD, received the Icelandic Music Prize, record of the year 2006.

Voces Thules has performed in many international festivals such as Utrecht Early Music Festival (2001) and Bergen Arts Festival (2002) as well as several occasions at Reykjavik Arts Festival (1006, 1998, 2006) and Skálholt Summer Concerts (1998, 2002, 2005, 2008). In 2005 they toured 15 cities of Japan, performing to an audience of aproximately 30.000 people. Their host in Japan was the Min-on foundation. Voces Thules has also toured widely in Europe and worked with various companies of the performing arts such as Iceland Dance Company, Iceland Symphony Orchestra and Nederlands Blasers Ensemble.

Voces Thules was nominated for the Nordic Music Price as performers of the year 2008. There were two main projects that were the main ground for this nomination:
One of them was a concert tour with a retrospective of Iceland’s history of Sacred Music, Furthermore, the ensemble performed parts of St. Thorlaks Office in the cathedrals of Nidaros and Stavanger in Norway and in Reykjavik and Skálholt in Iceland. The other one was to complete the work on the release of a CD and a book with poems about dreams and preminitions for the Battle of Örlygsstaðir from Sturlunga Saga, one of Iceland’s most important medieval written sources written around 1300. Below is a description of this project:

Sturlunga – The Battle of Iceland
Dreams and premonitions for the battle of Örlygsstaðir 1238
The poems in this project are about the social situation in Iceland at the Sturlunga – age, the first half of the 13th century. The aim was to capture the atmosphere that had so much influence on people’s every day life in the years of turmoil and warfare previous to the decline of the National independence that came to an end with the “Gamli sáttmáli” agreement with the King of Norway.
The project, which had been underway for several years, was completed in 2008 and released in a book and a CD in February 2009. Voces Thules had medieval instruments made especially to accompany the poems, all of which have a history in medieval Iceland although sources are limited. The songs to the poems were found through the oral tradition of the Icelandic heritage, mostly notated by revd. Bjarni Thorsteinsson in the late 19th century. The songs are accommodated to the words in a medieval manner, generally known as “Contrafactum” and was used by the Toubadours and Trouvers of the 12th and 13th century. Arngeir H. Hauksson, a specialist in medieval instrumental interpretation, was an important participant who both contributed research, made arrangements along with the group members and took part in performances and recordings.
Throughout the procedure the material was performed widely, such as the Bergen Arts Festival, in big concert halls in 15 cities of Japan, in the Oosteport in Groningen, Holland, in the newly built Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam and on many occasions in Iceland.
Main projects in 2010
This year the focus will be set on promoting the ensemble´s latest recording, “Sturlunga – The battle of Iceland” in Europe and on the research on medieval song-dances, so called “Sagnadansar”. “Sagnadansar” are thought to be remains of pre-Christian fertility dances that remained in some form in Iceland well into the 19th century but were lost in Europe around 1200. The work connects Voces Thules’ research of instrument playing and contrafactum with the research of Sigríður Valgeirsdóttir, dancer and scholar from Berkley University who has spent a lifetime collecting evidence and sources as well as publishing much of her theories. She is now about 90 years old, and when she was collecting her material she met people in different parts of Iceland who’s grandparents were born in the first part of the 19th century and had learnt those dances from them. Many other dance and drama historians are also being consulted.

Voces Thules will perform at “The nordic festival of medieval music” in Söderköping and at “The international conference for the European Association of Dance Historians” in Seville, both events will take place in September. Some concerts are planned in Iceland this summer as well.

Projects in the near future
There are three projects that will be undertaken or are underway for the next couple of years or so. All of them are based on cooperation with artists from different fields.

Another project centered around dance, apart from the “Sagnadansar”, is to stage the music from the CD Sturlunga – the Battle of Iceland with Pars Pro Toto dance company, choreographed and directed by Lára Stefánsdóttir.

The Spire – Opera by Sveinn Lúðvík Björnsson based on a novel by William Golding. Voces Thules will take part in this production which will be premiered at the Skálholt Summer Concerts festival in 2010 and then go on tour to Spain, Norway and the UK. Director and choreographer will be Darren Royston, costume designer is Stefanía Adolfsdóttir and among other participants are Ágúst Ólafsson baritone, Hallveig Rúnarsdóttir soprano, Stephan Sanches baritone, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson actor, Lovísa Ósk Gunnarsdóttir dancer and Caput Ensemble.

A concert programme in cooperation with Kristjana Stefánsdóttir, jazz singer, and Gísli Magnason, tenor/composer/arranger of medieval and polyphonic music with modern perspectives.

Apart from those three projects Voces Thules has already started the work on Völuspá (the old Nordic history of the Earth) from the Edda and the poetry of Egill Skallagrímsson.and will in the nearest future, continue to work on both of these topics commenced with the Holland tour with the Nederlands Blasers Ensemble in 2007. Voces Thules will also continue to research and perform from Icelandic manuscripts namely the St. Nicholas Office (c.1400) and Lectionarem Romanum (c.1200) and the Hugenott psalms from the 16th century in Icelandic language from 17th and 18th century manuscripts.

Voces Thules are:
Guðlaugur Viktorsson
Eggert Pálsson
Einar Jóhannesson
Eiríkur Hreinn Helgason
Sigurður Halldórsson

Apart from singing, the members of Voces Thules play various types of medieval percussion, early keyboard instruments, tabor, recorders, bagpipes, shawms, crummhorns symphonies, rebecs, dulcimers and lyres.

The following publications are available from Voces Thules:
Sturlunga – sék eld of þér – Battle of Iceland
Sturlunga Saga tells the story of the Battle of Örlygsstaðir which was waged between two rival clans vying for power on August 21st 1238 AD. This bloody battle and it’s aftermath were the main reasons for Iceland’s loss of independence to the Norwegian king in 1262.
Voces Thules, in co-operation with Arngeir Hauksson, searched for ancient melodies that would fit the verse in the chapter about dreams and premonitions connected with the battle. All texts are translated in English, French and German.
In Icelander’s minds, the “Sturlunga age” is directly associated with turmoil and conflict when Iceland came to the brink of civil war.

Officium S. Thorlaci
Þorlákur Þórhallsson, bishop, died on December 23rd 1193.
On July 20th 1198 his relics were translated. In 1199 accounts of miracles associated with him were first read at Althingi and in 1237, July the 20th was formally adopted as his feast day.
Pope John Paul II issued a directive designating him as the patron saint of Iceland on January the 14th 1985.
The whole Office is translated in Icelandic and English. Information is also printed in Italian, Japanese and Chinese.



1993 800th anniversary of the death of Bishop Thorlak Thorhallsson. Voces Thules perform some sections of St.Thorlak’s Office at the Christ the King Cathedral in Reykjavík, 30th December.

1994 Study retreat in Skálholt during Pentecost.
Research work commences.

1995 Recording of Vespers in the Cathedral of Skálholt for Icelandic State Radio.

1996 Transcription of St. Thorlak’s Office begins.VocesThules invited to Arts festival in Lincolnshire, where St. Thorlak studied in the 12th century. In the Lincoln University Chapel there is a stained glass window depicting the Icelandic saint in the company of other saints.
Medieval Music Festival in Reykjavík. Voces Thules perform a concert dedicated to St.Thorlak at the University of Iceland. Recorded by Icelandic State Radio.
The manuscript of St. Thorlak’s Officeis shipped back to Icelandic shores from Copenhagen.
Visit to the Abbey of Saint Pierre in Solesmes, on the outskirts of Paris. (St.Thorlak studied in Paris in the 12th century). The monastery has preserved invaluable knowledge and research on medieval manuscripts and Gregorian chant.
Meeting with the monk, Daniel Saulnier, who wrote the introduction to
this edition of the Office of St.Thorlak.

1997 Voces Thules invited to a Baltic arts festival. Concerts in Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius.
Rehearsals for the performance of the complete Office of St.Thorlak.

1998 OfficeofSt.Thorlakperformedinfiveparts,overoneanda halfdays,
at the Reykjavík Arts Festival during Pentecost. The Officewas performed in the old traditional form, culminating in a High Mass.
The University of Iceland teaches a course on the Officeof St.Thorlak.
The manuscript of St. Thorlak’s Officeis exhibited at the Árni Magnússon Institute in Reykjavík.
St. Thorlak’s Day. Officeis sung at the Skálholt Cathedralon 20th July at the 800th anniversary of Bishop Thorlak Thorhallsson’s beatification.
Art exhibition in the foyer of Hallgrím’s Church, in collaboration with the Friends of the Arts Society of Hallgrímskirkja. Six artists created works inspired by St.Thorlak: Kristín Gunnlaugsdóttir,
Helgi Thorgils Friðjónsson, Gunnar Örn Gunnarsson, Jón Axel Björnsson, Páll Guðmundsson from Húsafell and Kristján Davíðsson. The exhibition included a life-size photograph of the altar piece with the Saints of Iceland from the See of Hólar, on loan from the National Museum of Iceland.
“Patron Saint of Iceland”, programme made by the Icelandic State Television and broadcast on 23rd December, the anniversary of St. Thorlak’s death. Produced by Voces Thules member Sverrir Guðjónsson and Þiðrik Ch. Emilsson.

1999 Preparations for the recording of the complete Office of St.Thorlak
using multi-track technology.

2000 Complete re-transcription of the manuscript by Voces Thules member Eggert Pálsson.

2001 Voces Thules invited to perform Icelandic medieval music at the 20th anniversary of the Early Music Festival of Utrecht, one of the oldest and most respected in the world.

2002 Voces Thules’s 10th anniversary. The group is invited to perform two concerts at the 50th anniversary of Bergen International Festival, one sacred and one secular. Performance for King Harold of Norway
in the ancient Hakon’s Hall.
“Music from Icelandic manuscripts”, opening weekend of the Skálholt Summer Concerts Festival. A rich and varied programme of concerts throughout the weekend, including “Sé eg eld yfirþér” (“I see fireoveryou”),dreams and portents in the Battle of Orlygsstad recounted in the Sturlunga Saga, and Icelandic two-part songs and
related songs from Europe’s late Medieval period in cooperation with Arngeir Heiðar Hauksson and Dr. Árni Heimir Ingólfsson.

2003 Digitisation of St. Thorlak’s Office supervised byEggert Pálsson. St. Thorlak’s Office translated by FatherJakob Rolland, Rev. Kristján Valur Ingólfsson, Svavar Hrafn Svavarsson (Ass. Prof.) and Sverrir Guðjónsson.

2004- Editing and final soundmix.

2005 11th June – “46664” International Nelson Mandela Arctic Concert in Tromsø, Norway in support of HIV positive children in the world.
Voces Thules invited by the Min-on Concert Association to tour 15 Japanese cities in November and December performing to an audience of around 30.000 people. This is one of the greatest promotions of
the Icelandic musical heritage ever organised abroad.
Office sungin the cathedrals of Skálholt and Hólar in Hjaltadalur.
Also in St. Thorlak’s Church in Thorlákshöfn and in Hallgrím’s Church, where the Officewasrecorded.

One Response to “History”

  1. gudjon rudolf Says:
    January 15th, 2016 at %I:%M %p


    jég er búinn að hafa þennann söng á heilanum í mera en eitt ár það er að seigja trölla slag dásamlegur flutningur og lag.
    Vildi spyrja um hvort ég mætti nota lagið og gamman væri að fá uplýsingar um það og textan.

    væri frábært að heira frá ykkur með fyrir framm þökk
    Guðjó Rúdólf

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