Faroese art and culture




The magical musician
In 2000 it was 100 years since the birth of William Heinesen, the world-famous Faroese author, and the whole year was one long commemorative celebration in his honour.

William Heinesen was a freeman of his native city so the celebrations naturally started in Tórshavn on his birthday the 15th of January. Actually they started the day before with the publication of three books of the authors texts. On the day itself the statue of the elf girl Tarira was unveiled. Tarira is one of William Heinesens fantasy figures; the legendary and alluring young girl, half dream and half reality. She is desire and enchantment, and William Heinesen has represented her not only in story but also in paper collages. He started making these collages, consisting of many layers of coloured paper on top of one another, at an advanced age and became a master of the art in the course of 15 years, when he laid aside his scissors at the age of 85.

Tarira dancing in a red
One of these collages shows Tarira dancing in a red and flaming fairy tale wood, while a young man plays the violin for her; or it may be that it is her dance that draws out the music and makes the boy play. The well-known Faroese sculptor, Hans Pauli Olsen has taken Tarira out of the red wood and in his version she now stands in a green wood, the woodland park that is the pride of Tórshavn. The park is situated below the house where William Heinesen lived most of his life, and from the little mound where Tarira stands you can see up to the brown house with green windows and beyond that to the little writing hut, four metres square, where some of his most important works were written.

Tarira is cast in bronze
Tarira is cast in bronze, but she is human and delightful. She is already Tórshavns "Little Mermaid", apart from the fact that there is nothing bashful or sad about her. On the contrary she stands there naked, with arms outstretched and fingers spread out and is probably telling one of William Heinesens wildest stories. She is joy itself as she stands there on her stone. An odd stone, by the way. On the one side a picture is carved in thick lines; it is the young man with the violin, and on the other side the stone is hollow, almost like the back of an elf girl. From a distance you can see that this hollow forms a dark silhouette. To those who knew him there seems something familiar about it, and now you can see that it is William Heinesens own profile that is carved into the stone and that Tarira is actually dancing out of his forehead.

Tarira stands not very far from the Art Gallery, where some of William Heinesens pictures can be seen. From there it is not far to the Nordic House, which played an active part in the centenary celebrations. On the birthday a big exhibition, "Hjemme på jorden" (At home on the Earth) was opened in the Nordic House as the next stage in the extensive William Heinesen programme. Here the Faroese and Danish National Libraries had filled all of the beautiful building with his particular world. Mainly with manuscripts, books and pictures from his long life and work, but also with a special section with his original works of art, the whole framed with large, ceiling-high pictures from old Tórshavn.

The birthday ended with a performance of "Moder Syvstjerne" (Mother Pleiades), a dramatisation of William Heinesens novel of the same name . It is a tale of the creation of life, when there was no heaven or earth or any thing; but only a tremendous yearning for warmth, sustenance and sleep, broken by storms of tenderness, wild floods of milk and cleansing water, and an endless source of good and peaceful sounds that had not yet become words.
Later in the year there was a congress for scholars of literature, who discussed various aspects of William Heinesens art as a writer and particularly his very close association with another important Faroese writer, Jørgen-Frantz Jacobsen, the author of the novel Barbara. The exhibition was moved to the Royal Danish Library in the centre of Copenhagen, where it was on show all summer until it was moved to the Nordic House in Reykjavik. In addition there were radio and TV transmissions and newspaper and magazine articles. William Heinesen died in 1991; but the centenary year demonstrated that his works and his personality are still developing and will continue to capture peoples imagination and interest.

William Heinesens works have been translated into many languages, including the main languages, English, German, French and Russian besides all the Nordic languages. His works include 7 collections of poetry, 7 novels and 7 collections of short stories. In addition to these there are many other texts and also his work with music, visual art and drama.

He was able to play the instruments of all the arts. But it was in literature that he became the magical musician, not only for his own Tarira, but for a whole world.


The Lost Musicians, The novel
In his novel The Lost Musicians, the Faroese writer William Heinesen has the bell ringer Kornelius Isaksen take his three sons up into the tower of Tórshavn´s old church. Here for the first time they hear the aeolian harp which the bell ringer has built in the tower, and when the magic tones of the harp hit the ears of the boys, it awakens in them a ravenous longing that will never leave them. The music of the winds takes possession of their souls and they are irretrievably lost in a world of music.
In the Faroes you hear the wind everywhere. In the grass, in the rocks, in rough mountain sides and in caves and gorges. Is it the wind that makes the music and the arts thrive so well, almost contrary to reason? Anyway the creative activity in the Faroes is remarkable, considering its size and population. The whole Faroese society is no bigger than a medium-sized provincial town in any of the Nordic countries, but what provincial town can boast of a symphony orchestra, a chamber orchestra, ten brass bands, hundreds of choir singers and some twenty active pop and rock groups? Modern music is composed and played, and the stream of publications of pop music, rock, folk and gospel music is ever growing.
Turn your attention from the winds to the light, from your ears to your eyes and you will find the same level of activity in painting.The first public exhibition of Faroese painting took place only 50 years ago, and it was then decided to aim at an exhibition every second year. Today hardly a month, and in summer hardly a week, goes by without the opening of a new art exhibition somewhere in the islands, and the best Faroese painters have long since obtained recognition abroad.
Not quite so easy for literature, though, at least if it wants to reach beyond the limits set by the Faroese language. But every year sees the publication of around 150 books in Faroese in numbers of copies which compared to other countries are surprisingly high, and it is all done under strained economic conditions. For nothing pays, it is almost impossible to publish a book or a CD, have a concert or put a play on stage without running into debt. Still, it is done. Because the heart beats and there is a passion to it.
Does that come from the influence of the winds and the light? Or is it perhaps the curiosity of a society that has just begun to find its own identity? The written language is new, the art of painting is young, instrumental music has only recently been adopted, there are so many things to discover, to put into words and patterns in that particular world which is the Faroe Islands.
A world full of the ravenous longing that the bell ringer´s sons experienced in that church tower.

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