Undir - Ólafur Arnalds

Ólafur Arnalds' 'Undir' is a profound exploration of the emotional landscape through the piano. This composition, hailing from his 2018 album 're:member', stands as a testament to Arnalds’ mastery in blending classical influences with electronic nuances. The piece, characterized by its haunting melodies and intricate textures, showcases a delicate balance between minimalism and complexity. ‘Undir’ not only captures the essence of solitude and introspection but also reflects Arnalds' unique approach to composition, where every note and silence carries weight.

The Genesis of 'Undir'

The solo piano piece 'Undir' was crafted by the Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds, known for his distinctive blend of minimal piano and electronic sounds. Released as part of his fourth studio album 're:member' in 2018, 'Undir' quickly resonated with listeners around the globe. The album itself marked a significant moment in Arnalds' career, introducing a new method of composition through his software, Stratus, which transforms the piano into a unique sound sculpture.

Arnalds' 're:member' was conceived during a period of personal reflection and recovery following a back injury that temporarily hindered his ability to play the piano. This experience deeply influenced the album's direction, emphasizing a theme of rebirth and self-discovery, with 'Undir' serving as a pivotal piece within this narrative. The composition was also featured in various films and TV series, further cementing its place in contemporary instrumental music.

'Undir' was recorded in Arnalds' newly built studio in Reykjavík, a space designed to encapsulate the essence of tranquility and inspiration. The recording process highlighted the natural acoustics of the piano, enhancing the emotive depth of the composition.

Analyzing 'Undir'

The musicality of 'Undir' traces its roots to minimalist philosophy, yet it is rich in emotional depth. The piece is structured around a recurring melodic motif, presented with slight variations throughout, which is a common technique in minimal music to evoke a profound emotional response without overwhelming complexity. This motif is layered atop a series of harmonies that shift subtly, guiding the listener through a reflective journey.

In terms of harmonic analysis, 'Undir' utilizes a predominantly ambient soundscape punctuated by moments of tension and release, characteristic of Arnalds' compositions. The interplay between major and minor tonalities throughout the piece creates a sound that is at once comforting and melancholic. This is further enhanced by Arnalds' use of dynamic contrast, with the piece fluctuating between moments of delicate pianissimo and powerful forte passages.

The scale patterns in 'Undir' are carefully crafted to enhance the piece's atmospheric quality. Arnalds employs modal scales alongside traditional major and minor scales, contributing to the composition's unique sonic landscape. The resulting music transcends traditional boundaries of classical and contemporary piano music.

Unraveling the Popularity of 'Undir'

'Undir' has garnered widespread acclaim for its ability to resonate with listeners on a deeply personal level. This popularity can be attributed to the universal themes of introspection and renewal that Arnalds masterfully weaves into the composition. The piece serves as a musical reflection of the human condition, making it relatable to a broad audience.

The piece's incorporation into various media platforms has also played a significant role in its popularity. By featuring 'Undir' in films and TV series, Arnalds’ music has been introduced to audiences who might not have otherwise encountered his work. This exposure has facilitated a deeper appreciation for instrumental music, bridging the gap between classical and contemporary genres.

Moreover, the unique sound of 'Undir', achieved through the convergence of classical piano techniques and electronic elements, has captivated listeners worldwide. Arnalds' innovative approach to composition, particularly his use of the Stratus software, distinguishes 'Undir' within the realm of solo piano music, drawing in aficionados of both classical and electronic music.


Ólafur Arnalds’ 'Undir' is a masterpiece of contemporary music that blends the melodious beauty of the piano with profound emotional expression. Its composition techniques, thoughtful harmonics, and universal appeal establish 'Undir' as a pivotal work in Arnalds’ discography. Through this piece, Arnalds invites listeners to embark on a journey of reflection and discovery, proving that music is not just heard but deeply felt. 'Undir' remains a poignant reminder of the power of solo piano to convey the depths of human emotion.

The continued relevance and adoration of 'Undir' highlight Ólafur Arnalds’ status as a visionary composer. His ability to transcend genre boundaries and touch the hearts of listeners globally ensures that 'Undir' will be cherished for years to come.

Publication date: 06. 03. 2024