Seven Icelandic Elf Songs

Seven Icelandic Elf Songs

In keeping with this issue’s theme…

Published August 20, 2014

“Álfareiðin” (“The Elf Ride”)
“Álfareiðin” is one of Iceland’s most beloved elf-themed songs, and is sung by a bonfire every year at Þrettándinn (“the Twelfth Night”—celebrated by Icelanders every January 6). The song is actually not Icelandic at all: the lyrics are a translation, by fabled Icelandic poet Jónas Hallgrímsson, of a Heinrich Heine poem, and the song is by German composer H. Heide. Regardless, it is by now an indispensable part of Icelanders’ cultural heritage.

“Starálfur”—Sigur Rós
Apparently, there are certain elements to Sigur Rós’ music that tend to make their listeners associate the band with elves and Hidden People (perhaps their nationality is the biggest factor?). “Starálfur” (“Staring Elf”) is the third track on the celebrated post-rock band’s breakthrough album ‘Ágætis byrjun,’ released in 1999. The song—one of Sigur Rós’ most beautiful works—revolves around a guy who goes to bed in his blue pyjamas and encounters a elf under his sheets, who simply stares at him: a staring elf. “Starálfur” was used in an important scene in Wes Anderson’s ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,’ which had absolutely nothing to do with elves.

“Grasi vaxin göng”—múm
While not an elf song per se, “Grasi vaxin göng” (“Green Grass Of Tunnel”) from múm’s seminal ‘Loksins erum við engin’ (‘Finally, We Are No One’) radiates naturalistic mystique and an elfin aura.

“Álfur út úr hól”—Björk
“Álfur út úr hól” (“An Elf Out Of A Hill”) is a song from Björk’s 1977 self-titled début album, released when she was but eleven years old. The song is sung to the tune of The Beatles’ “Fool On The Hill,” and lyrics are almost the same as the originals—the only difference is that Björk sings about an elf instead of a fool.

“Það eru álfar inní þér”—SSSól
“You’re like a rock, you’ve got elves inside of you.” So go the translated lyrics for the chorus of the song “Það eru álfar inní þér” (“There Are Elves Inside Of You”), by the celebrated ‘90s pop band SSSól, who were fronted by legendary Icelandic rock star Helgi Björnsson (AKA Holy B). This is clearly an elf-themed tune, if there ever was one.

“Álfar”—Magnús Þór Sigmundsson
“Álfar” (“Elves”) is a song from an album of the same name by Icelandic composer Magnús Þór Sigmundsson, one half of groundbreaking ‘70s folk duo Magnús & Jóhann. Whether elves serve as metaphor here or not, they definitely make an appearance in the frankly enchanting tune.

“Ólafur Liljurós”
“Ólafur Liljurós” is an Icelandic folk tune from the fourteenth century, which remains a popular standard at the so-called “elf bonfires” that happen on Þrettándinn. The lyrics have a fascinating aura of mystery around them. The song is ostensibly about a man riding a horse to meet his mother, who along the way encounters some elves who invite him to live with them. As that would go against his Christian beliefs, Ólafur promptly refuses, at which points the elves murder him.

Straumur has been active since last summer, with writers Óli Dóri and Davíð Roach documenting the local music scene and helping people discover new music at straum.is. It is associated with the radio show Straumur on X977, which airs every Monday evening at 23:00.


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