Gabriel Olafs and Steiney Sigurðardóttir: Lullabies for Piano and Cello (Decca)
“When you write a pop song today, you want it to be catchy. But with folk music, you want it to be catchy for hundreds of years. You need it to survive. I really like that,” pianist Gabríel Ólafs says. “I thought that was intriguing. And I thought of this idea of challenging myself to write new ‘folk melodies’ or new lullabies.”
That’s the idea behind the third recording from the 24-year-old Icelandic pianist, featuring cellist Steiney Sigurðardóttir. It’s a collection of lullabies for cello and piano based on Icelandic folk songs. The pieces were inspired by a collection of melodies he discovered in an antique book shop in Reykjavik, Iceland.
“I'm on a list at this old bookstore, and they often call me for stuff that comes in. And when they called about this one, I recognized it as something that I learned about in school studying music in Iceland. I had totally forgotten about it, and I had never seen the book. It’s quite rare, this book itself.
“It contains our most important piece of musical history in Iceland. Basically, it was a priest that toured the country and collected them from families and churches, and he went to every part of Iceland around the island, and he collected these melodies. And I think what captured me was that many of these melodies, as I was just reading them and playing them on the piano, I thought they were surprisingly catchy.”
How did you decide which ones you were going record?
“I noticed very early on that most of the melodies that I really liked, my immediate favorites, were lullabies. I picked a combination of some lesser-known ones that I found for the first time in the music score, but then I also picked some that I recognized and were personally my favorites.
“For example, Mama, which means mother or mom in Icelandic, is probably our most celebrated and common lullaby here in Iceland. And it's one that my mom, or rather my parents, would sing to me.
“The opening track is called Fantasia, which is an original melody. It is sort of inspired by the Celtic side of Icelandic musical heritage. We have a sort of Irish Celtic population that arrived early on and very much influenced the musical sound of the Vikings, and it also celebrates my love of fantasy. I'm a huge nerd, and I've recently been able to admit this publicly. I'm really into The Lord of the Rings books.”
Why is nostalgia important to you as you create your music?
“Because of the nuance in this feeling of nostalgia. If you try to express nostalgia or create a nostalgic feeling in a piece of music, I feel like it translates well because of this nuance, because it's not too on the nose of a feeling. Ever since I started writing, I do very much chase a feeling of nostalgia in many of my pieces.
“I would describe this record as maybe an a la carte menu. You know, in cooking, you can make a really complicated big dish, and it's amazing, but you can also make a really complicated big dish that doesn't taste very good. What I discovered about myself is me wanting to create a musical a la carte menu, where every small little dish does satisfy you.”
Gabríel Ólafs and Steiney Sigurðardóttir: Lullabies for Piano and Cello - (Amazon)
Gabríel Ólafs - official website
Love the music?
Show your support by making a gift to YourClassical.
Each day, we’re here for you with thoughtful streams that set the tone for your day – not to mention the stories and programs that inspire you to new discovery and help you explore the music you love.
YourClassical is available for free, because we are listener-supported public media. Take a moment to make your gift today.