Saga Music 101 - the Icelandic Viking Sagas portrayed in Songs

Seeing that I am always writing about the Vikings and the Sagas then I could not give a new show in Reykjavík a miss - the Saga Music 101 - where the Icelandic Viking Sagas are beautifully portrayed in songs by very talented musicians.  

The Vikings searched for new territories in the 9th century in open Viking ship on the open ocean, and some of them settled on this volcanic island way up north, where they lived and fought the elements and each other. Here they had to survive through harsh winters with drift ice and unexpected volcanic eruptions, but they persevered and most of us, who still live here in Iceland, are direct descendants of the Vikings.

These Vikings were looking for a safer place to live and to raise their families, but feuds and battles were to take place on this former peaceful island, where only a few Irish monks had lived before the Vikings arrived.  

Saga Music 101 - the Icelandic Viking Sagas portrayed in Songs

The Sagas are family sagas which give us insight into the life of the Vikings during the Saga Age back in the 9th-11th century.  These Sagas are real stories of love and betrayal, honour and revenge and the endless lust for power.  

It is not known exactly who wrote the Sagas, but it is believed that the most influential Icelander, Snorri Sturluson, wrote one of the best-known Sagas - the Saga of Egill. The 40 Icelandic Sagas were written and preserved on expensive calfskin - some of them got lost, as they were eaten during a famine in Iceland, which is a great loss, as these Sagas are pure gems.

The Árni Magnússon (1663-1730) Manuscript Collection is listed on the UNESCO list, the Memory of the World Register. UNESCO describes the Sagas as being "widely recognised as constituting one of the high points of world literature and still translated and read throughout the world today".

Saga Music 101 - the Icelandic Viking Sagas portrayed in Songs

You can flick through the Icelandic Sagas online in English, Icelandic and Old Norse online now if you want to get acquainted with these amazing Viking Sagas.  

I would also recommend visiting the Saga Museum at Grandi in Reykjavík before attending the Saga Music 101 show, to get yourself better acquainted with the Icelandic  Sagas and the Vikings. Thus you will be able to ask the performers questions after the show.   

At the museum, you will see beautifully made life-size wax figures of the most prominent Vikings and happenings in Iceland in early times. My photo above, which I took at the Saga Museum, shows Ingólfur Arnarson and his wife Hallgerður, who have been called the first settlers of Iceland - they settled in Reykjavík. You will notice that the street by which the venue for Saga Music 101 stands is called Ingólfsstræti street - the Street of Ingólfur. Right next to the venue you will find Arnarhóll hill, with a statue of Ingólfur Arnarson himself.

Saga Music 101 - the Icelandic Viking Sagas portrayed in Songs

The venue for the Saga Music 101 show is in the heart of the old part of Reykjavík, Reykjavík 101, in the beautiful and elegant Gamla bíó - the Old Cinema and Theatre, later a Concert Hall, which was one of the most beautiful and elegant cinemas in Reykjavík.  

I remember fondly the times we used to go there when I was little, this was my all time favourite cinema - so elegant - and we always got to sit in one of the balconies. The auditorium has been changed and tables have been added, so it looks more like a restaurant than a cinema now, an excellent venue for a show like Saga Music 101.

Saga Music 101 - the Icelandic Viking Sagas portrayed in Songs

Before the show, we got white wine at the bar and went up to the rooftop lounge at the Petersen Suite, which is a part of the experience of enjoying the Saga Music 101 show. Drinks can also be bought in the elegant foyer of Gamla bíó.

The view from the rooftop of downtown Reykjavík is unparalleled - do arrive a little bit early and go up to the roof when you attend the Saga Music 101 show.

Saga Music 101 - the Icelandic Viking Sagas portrayed in Songs

Saga Music 101 - the Icelandic Viking Sagas portrayed in Songs

The other performers at the Saga Music 101 show are; the very talented singer Valgerður Guðnadóttir, who studied acting and classical singing at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. She is a well-known singer and actress and listening to her velvety voice is pure delight. And the guitarist, Pétur Valgarð Pétursson, is from Bíldudalur in the Westfjords of Iceland, remember the village where the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum is located?  

No matter how hard I tried I could not get a photo of Pétur looking up, he was so steeped in playing the guitar ;) Pétur is a well known classical guitarist In Iceland and both he and Valgerður teach music and hold concerts as well as performing at the Saga Music 101 once a week. All 3 of them are very professional performers and together these 3 musicians have created an excellent show.

Saga Music 101 - the Icelandic Viking Sagas portrayed in Songs

Now, let's review the Saga songs, which we listened to in romantic settings by candlelight in this beautiful hall of Gamla bíó - some of the songs were nostalgic and bittersweet, others were heroic. One song told us the story of the Irish slaves, which were captured by the Vikings on their way to Iceland.  

That song almost reduced me to tears, I had never before heard a song from the point of view of the Irish themselves. We learn at school that the Vikings took some Irish (mainly women) with them as slaves and thus our genes are both Norwegian and Celtic. There was not much emphasis put on our Irish origin back then.

My photo below is from one of my visits to the Saga Museum and shows Melkorka Mýrkjartansdóttir, the Irish princess, who was kidnapped by the Vikings on their way to Iceland. Parts of her story are told in the well-known Laxdæla Saga. It is believed that more than half the women in Iceland during the age of Settlement in my country were of Celtic origin!

Saga Music 101 - the Icelandic Viking Sagas portrayed in Songs

This beautiful song opened my eyes to the world of the Irish slaves, how terrified they must have been when the Vikings captured them and took them to a remote island in the north - and how terribly homesick they must have been. They were also our ancestors, but we tend to focus more on the Norwegian Vikings being our ancestors.

Another song focused on the Viking hero and the next one was a love song - it told us the love story of the son of a chieftain and a redhead with green eyes. How this young man fell head over heels in love with this young girl with golden red hair and such green eyes that this Viking could not get her out of his mind :)

The next song in line focused on the Poet, who was ordered to compose a flattering poem for a ruthless uncharming king. How was he to compose a poem for such a ruthless man - but the consequence of him not doing so would result in him losing his head!

Saga Music 101 - the Icelandic Viking Sagas portrayed in Songs

Next came a song about the never-ending blood feud of the Vikings - revenge and blood feuds are a big part of the Sagas, where one Viking avenged his family and then another one avenged his family and so on.

Then came the song about the storytellers, who told the same stories again and again for the legacies to be carried on. The song about the storyteller is called the Old man by the fire. The stories were finally written down on calfskin and became the Sagas as we know them today.  

Next was the drinking song - but the Vikings were known for being quite efficient drinkers.  It was the duty of every man and the sturdiest women to carry on drinking for 7 days and 7 nights - or so the story goes!

Saga Music 101 - the Icelandic Viking Sagas portrayed in Songs

The final song of this beautiful concert was another waiving of a ship from the shore - this time from the Celtic shore as several Celts also settled Iceland, some of which were Christians. This song is called the Wind song and is extraordinarily beautiful. Valgeir was also once a fisherman and sailed on a 30 meter's long sailboat from Norway to the British Isles. 

When he wrote the Wind song he was influenced by his own sea voyage in an open boat, much like the Vikings sailed in open Viking ships. The song is a prayer by the Celts to the gods to guide their ship across the unknown waters.  I am still humming these lines to myself:  "Listen to the wind song, see the water break, carry us, carry us far away. Guide our ship across these waters". It is quite a sentimental song, which made my eyes water. I would love to own it on CD.
Saga Music 101 - the Icelandic Viking Sagas portrayed in Songs

Do pay this beautiful show a visit and listen to Valgeir's take on the Icelandic Viking Sagas - I am sure you will be as moved as I was. The show is in English, but it is for us locals as well as for our foreign guests - seeing that the Sagas are our heritage.  

If you find yourself in Reykjavík and wonder what to do after having dinner in one of our many restaurants downtown then do remember this beautiful show, Saga Music 101.

Saga Music 101 - the Icelandic Viking Sagas portrayed in Songs

The Saga Music 101 show visits Reykjavík once a week from Bakkastofa Culture House in Eyrarbakki village in South-Iceland, where Valgeir and Ásta live. The show starts at 8 pm and lasts for 45-55 minutes. Afterwards, the guests will get the chance to ask the performers about the songs and the Sagas.

Admission to the Saga Music 101 show is ISK 4,700.

You can also visit Bakkastofa in Eyrarbakki village where the show is held for groups. Just call ahead or send them an e-mail to make an arrangement.

Saga Music 101 - the Icelandic Viking Sagas portrayed in Songs

One tip - if you happen to be staying in a hotel further away from the city centre and have rented a car, then a multi-storey car park is close by in Hverfisgata street, where it is convenient to park the car for the duration of the show.

Before you attend the Saga Music 101 show why not unleash your inner Viking Warrior with a professional Viking portrait just a couple of minutes away from Ingólfsstræti street, where the venue for the Saga Music 101 is located. And maybe go all Viking and sail like a Viking from the old harbour in Reykjavík just a couple of minutes away from Gamla bíó, the venue of Saga Music 101 :)

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