In February of 2018, Iceland mourned the sudden loss of one of their most cherished neo-classical composers and songwriters, Jóhann Jóhannsson. At only 48-years of age, he was found deceased in his Berlin residence from what would later be determined as an accidental overdose.
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Jóhannsson was prolific in his creative outpourings both internationally and within the Icelandic musical community and he wrote music for theatre, dance, television and films. His style can be described as a distinctive blend of traditional orchestration with electronic elements.
Having written the score for the 2014 hit movie The Theory of Everything, Jóhannsson received international critical acclaim and would receive nominations for The Best Original Score Award at the Academy Awards, BAFTAs, and Grammy’s. Ultimately, he won a Golden Globe within this category for the 2014 blockbuster.
His work with Denis Villeneuve on the 2015 movie Sicario would see him win an Academy Award for Best Original Score and his music for the 2018 psychedelic horror, Mandy, starring Nicholas Cage was released posthumously.
The news of his death came as a shock to his fans worldwide as well as the Icelandic musical community, of which he had been an integral part. Since his passing, there has been a number of commemorative concerts in Jóhannsson’s name to celebrate his works and immense talent.
Check out Iceland Airwaves 2018 in Photos
KEXP, a Seattle based radio station and nonprofit arts organisation recently released footage of a moving series of tribute concerts for Jóhannsson hosted by the Mengi arts space in Reykjavík. The day of commemorative performances occurred during last year’s Iceland Airwaves festival (November 2018) and all of the artists involved shared a personal bond with Jóhannsson, be it through friendship or collaboration, often both.
Given these connections to the deceased, the concert footage stirs the soul and is emotionally engaging throughout. The second act features Jóhannsson father, Jóhann Gunnarsson, lead a string quartet, playing his son’s Cambridge 1963, the score for The Theory of Everything.
The uplifting and incredibly hopeful nature of the song combined with his father’s never-slowing spinning of an organ wheel leaves the viewer in awe of Jóhannson’s talent and equally mournful for those that he left behind.
Similarly, the Apparat Organ Quartet’s performance, a group of which Jóhannsson used to be part of, strikes the heart-strings hard, especially when they come to perform 123 Forever. The joyous requiem tells the story of young artists revelling in the wealth of possibilities ahead of them and life touring on the open road.
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In the absence of their former band member and friend, the significance of this particular number is apparent in the stoic yet grateful and deeply respectful countenance of the quartet.
As a master-manipulator of sounds, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s avant-garde legacy looks to survive his passing and will undoubtedly continue to leave audiences spellbound well into the future.
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