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Modest Knocking


"Modest Knocking"

Atli Ingólfsson’s thoughts after listening to the CD “Hljómblik”,

(as translated from the Icelandic by Oliver Kentish)

My grandfather pumps the harmonium and the daughters sing at the tops of their voices. After a while, it seems as if the noise of the pedals becomes louder, or are the girls keeping time with their feet? No, the sound is coming from the hall; a modest knocking on the door. Has the guest been waiting long without making his presence known? Probably; both because of the noise and the love of song. "It's Björgvin", they say.
A kindly, short-sighted man enters the room where the music comes to life, as well as justice, thinks the guest. He appreciates this a great deal.
"There's a short solo in the cantata which you must sing" he says to my mother. She dare not refuse. 'Does he really have to make changes at this stage, the choir has been rehearsing for a long time now', she might be thinking, too young to appreciate the searching and the patience which are the hallmarks of his creativity.
Patience: in fact the composer in him was tested to the limits in this that sometimes it ran out for him as conductor. Then justice took over: he would apologise to the choir "I lost my temper a bit" and was again the gentleman. As now, over coffee amongst these music-loving people.
Somehow, I feel as if I were in that room on Brekkugata Street, seated opposite Björgvin Guðmundsson. Perhaps I started to talk about what we have in common. Of course, we talk a great deal of Handel, who for both of us was a revelation when we were young. We go on to reminisce about travels to distant lands, seeking further enlightenment. Exactly; even if the influence of music is magical the spell will not be effective without skill. And I begin to speak, so he cannot get a word in edgeways. From skill to justice. Perhaps one might describe his music as the search for justice in notes.
It is probably possible to divide composers into two groups: on the one hand, those who have sudden insights, the downward force of inspiration. and on the other, those who need to seek for the right sound, where inspiration comes horizontally, quietly, but prolonged. (Björgvin looks questioningly at my grandfather). Those in the former group included Sigvaldi Kaldalóns, Mozart and probably Schubert and in the latter, Björgvin and, 'if you will pardon me', Beethoven as well".
The unborn boy continues: "The former create that which is good, because it is beautiful, the latter something beautiful because it is good. Both of these groups are necessary to man's spirit. Is it not ridiculous how many think they have to make up their minds which of the two 'finds the heart'? And don't some also think that the souls of the others are colder? There is hardly a more sensitive man than yourself; which has made not made your life any easier."
But this search for justice in notes: people who think it is dry and academic are mistaken. Justice is not only a distant intuition, it is almost tangible. And its sound is sweet and true."
No, I am just musing to myself, with the new CD still in the player: Björgvin's songs, some as they were originally composed, some in new arrangements (which they bear well as with all music that is well written). I think I can say I know how much work lies behind all these creations, which often appear so effortless and natural. I think I understand how they connect with the life and faith of the man who created them.
And now, again, it seems as if there is a knock. A shy guest who has waited too long outside the door. I am proud to have been allowed to open it.

Atli Ingólfsson


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