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Icelandic folk music includes a number of styles that are together a prominent part of the music of Iceland. When speaking of traditional Icelandic music, there are two very important vocal performance styles, one using the term kveða and the other syngja. The first a performance practice referred to as kveðskapur or kvæðaskapur. Kveðskapur is also the generic Icelandic term for poetry. The term syngja translates as to sing. 'Kveðskapur' was very connected to 'sagnadansar' or the dances who where accompanied with the 'kveðskapur'. Víkivaki is doubtfully the most famous of the 'sagnadansar' and its origin can be traced to the 11th century. Víkivaki saw a decline in the beginning of 20th century, although something is done to keep it alive.

Traditional Icelandic folk music remained widely performed into the last decades of the 19th century, when folk collecting began in the country. However, the advent of Western classical music and other foreign influences in the same period began leading to a decline in traditional music. Later, the arrival of popular music furthered this change; some folk music was recorded between the World Wars, but intense collecting did not begin in earnest until nowadays.


Rímur is a kind of epic vocal poem, with fixed diatonic melodies (except in Breiðafjörður, the district where the traditional music is oldest in style, and folk melodies are variable, not based on fixed scales). Rímur melodies (rímnalög, kvæðalög, stemmur) are often standard, and found throughout the country. These epic poems are in a narrative style and use elements of Icelandic literature and folklore; the performers were lauded for their ability to turn a story into verses.

A rímur verse is made up of trochaic lines which use literary techniques like rhyme and alliteration. There are between two and four lines, and a set pattern of syllabic stress and alliteration, which music author Hreinn Steingrímsson describes thusly:

The four-line metres are a combination of two couplets with four stressed syllables in the first line of each, and two such syllables (first and third, second and third, or third and fourth) alliterate with the first stressed syllable of the second line. [1]

The earliest known text of a rímur dates to the 14th century; for the subsequent six hundred years, the rímur texts were the most prolifically produced form of Icelandic literature. Rímur melodies date back to publications by folklorist Ólafur Davíðsson and were then collected in the first Icelandic folk music collection, Íslenzk þjóðlög, by Bjarni Þorsteinsson.

Rímur, specially the short four-line metres form "ferskeytla" is still today very popular in Iceland in most social groups. It is common to put together a rímu (setja saman stöku) about current events usually in the form of a joke or a ridicule. These short rimes then travel between people often with the use of emails. It is also common during parties that a guest may say a rime that he has learned or composed as a form of a joke. These rimes may often have a sexual content. Some individuals are more skilled at composing rimes about current events and this ability is generally priced and admired. A common game is that someone tells a first part (first two lines) of a rime "fyrri part" and then ask others to complete the rime "botna" (third and fourth line), each in their own way. The one who "botnar" in the best and/or most funny way is an informal winner. When two or more skilled poets come to gether it can happed that a form of a fight with rimes starts, them "keðast á". This is in the way that one poet composes a rime about another poet or something that relates to him such as where he is from, usually a bit derogatory but not insulting. That poet is then required to answer in kind and the one who composes better wins the "fight". It is an informal rule that if one is ridiculed or even insulted with a rime he must answer back with a rime, any other form of answer is invalid. Use of rime as a form of joke or games is most common in relation to inland travel and sports such as horses but also in relation to cultural/seasonal periods like Þorri as well as in political circles. Many congress men praise themselves for being good at composing rimes and use them to ridicule each other or opposing parties in a friendly manner.




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