Árni Björnsson was born on 23rd of December 1905 on a farm in the far north of Iceland, just south of the Arctic Circle.
It soon became evident that the boy was extremely musical, and that the harmonium in the parlour interested him much more than the sheep he was supposed to watch.
He was probably not much more than eight years old when, after listening to hymns being sung in harmony for the first time, he was able to repeat all the various parts on the aforementioned instrument.
There being neither opportunity nor wherewithal for formal training during his youth, he was largely self taught. By the age of seventeen, he was conducting choirs all over the county, and eventually he left the farm to go to the capital to start his music studies.
He learned the flute, and became one of the founder members of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. That was a mostly unpaid activity those early days, and he earned his living teaching, and playing piano in one of the dance bands in Reykjavik. In his spare moments he composed a wide variety of music - tangos and trots, wind band marches, chamber music, songs, orchestral works and music for the theatre.
He studied at the Royal College of Music in Manchester for two years during the 1940s and went on to build a reputation as e composer in Iceland during the latter half of that decade.
In 1952 he was working on an opera (based on one of the Sagas), which would have become the first Icelandic opera, had he not had the misfortune to be the victim of a violent crime which left him brain damaged and his talents much restricted. Interestingly, although he had to struggle to learn how to read and write again, he hadn't forgotten how to play the piano or to compose. His compositions were much changed, however, lightness and variety giving way to slower tempi and simpler arrangements. Nevertheless, his "Variations on a Theme in Folksong Style" for wind band, written in 1970, won first prize in an all-Scandinavian competition held by Danish Radio.
In his later years he worked as an organist, playing at church services in several of Reykjavik's hospitals, guided and assisted by his devoted wife Helga, she had refused to allow his doctors to consign him to an institution, and her nursing enabled him to remain a respected and well-loved figure, despite the cruel loss of his early promise.
He died in July 1995.
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