Haukur Tómasson

Haukur Tómasson is an Icelandic composer.

He is presented at Nordic Music Days with the work Rounds, performed by the Arctic Philharmonic Sinfonietta

Haukur Tómasson (Iceland 1960) received his master’s degree from the University of California, San Diego. Besides a large body of chamber music, Tómasson´s work includes six orchestral pieces, three concertos, and the opera Gudrun’s 4th Song.

To see and hear more of Haukur Tómasson:




Haukur Tómasson’s compositions Spírall and Concerto for Violin and Chamber Ensemble were nominated for the Nordic Council´s Music Prize in 1996 and 2000 respectively, and his orchestral piece Strati won the Icelandic National Broadcasting System Music Prize in 1993. Other prizes include the 1996 Bröste Optimistic Prize and the 1998 Icelandic Music Award for Gudrun´s 4th Song. His composition Saga (Fabella) for ensemble won the State Radio’s 70th-anniversary competition in 2000.

As a winner of the Nordic Council Music Prize – how do you see the contemporary Nordic music field? Is there a Nordic sound?
I don´t think there is a Nordic sound. 30 years ago the answer might have been different. Within each country, there were composers who could be labeled Nordic or at least considered themselves to be Nordic. Today the variety of music is enormous as I am sure people will experience at this festival. How people from outside of Scandinavia perceive the music is mostly out of our hands. Every Icelandic artist who has become known worldwide is immediately connected to the Icelandic landscape.

You went to the USA, Amsterdam, and Cologne to study. What impact did the years outside of the Nordic countries have on you?
In the early eighties, it was absolutely necessary for Icelandic composers to go abroad. Access to scores, recordings, and music books was so limited in those days. And to study on the European continent and later in the USA gave me a great mixture of influences. In Germany, I got access to a great library and a culture with almost too heavy tradition. And in California, there was computer music, improvisation, more conceptual (non-musical) thinking and the general open-mindedness of the West Coasters.

Many of your pieces have a narrative voice. Do you prefer working with text?
Not anymore. Of course, a text gives you an abundance of ideas but these days I am more prone to think about “pure” musical processes, free from a possible given structure of a text. If I use the voice in the near future I will probably create the text it myself and treat it like musical material. Use the voice as any other instrument.

Is music, often wordless, freer than other art forms? Any thoughts on this?
I think music is freer or at least not speaking as loud and clear as other art forms. My music is in any case fairly abstract. A message that can be put into words is elusive in my music.


Rounds deals with the formation of tone and different types of repetition. Each tone has a life span if it is viewed with a microscopic eye; beginning, life and end. These stages are examined, isolated, expanded, and repeated on a different scale. The piece was written for the Caput ensemble who gave the first performance last year with Gudni Franzson conducting.
Norwegian premiere at Nordic Music Days!


“In the case of Rounds (being heard for the first time in a revised version) by one of Iceland’s most renowned composers Haukur Tómasson, the notion of the envelope – the way a sound begins, develops and ends – was being explored. It posed the question of, within this group context, what constituted a ‘sound’, which Haukur’s music suggested was not about individual instruments but the product of many combining to form communal sonic entities.”

“This was initially reinforced by having each one of these entities conclude with a loud pizzicato accent like an unequivocal full stop, followed by a pause. As the piece developed it posed the additional question of what makes a sound into an idea – and indeed whether a sound can itself be an idea. This was provoked by the highly gestural nature of the material, forming something like swatches of sharply-defined patterned fabric that, over time, Haukur arranged into a patchwork, such that the joins were often sudden but clearly part of a bigger overall design.”