Faroese stamp depicting the Faroese ballad Harra Pætur & Elinborg

Kvæði (Kvaedi; at kvøða: "to sing a tune or kvæði"; kvæði also means verse in Icelandic, also sometimes used to mean stanza) are the old ballads of the Faroe Islands, accompanied by the Faroese dance. Kvæði can have hundreds of stanzas plus a chorus sung between every verse.

The subject matter of Faroese ballads varies widely, including heroic narratives set in the distant past, contemporary politics, and comic tales. The most archaic-looking layer, however, is the heroic narratives. It was once thought that these derive independently from Viking-Age oral narratives, and this may be true of a few, but it has since been shown that most derive directly from written Icelandic sagas or occasionally rímur. The traceable origins of Faroese balladry, then, seem to lie between the fourteenth century (when the relevant Icelandic sagas tended to be composed) and the seventeenth (when contacts with Iceland diminished).[1]

Faroese ballads began to be collected by Jens Christian Svabo in 1781–1782, though Svabo's collection was not published in his lifetime; the most prominent of Svabo's successors was Venceslaus Ulricus Hammershaimb. The Danish historians Svend Grundtvig and Jørgen Bloch began the process of a complete, standard edition of the ballads, which eventually gave rise to the Føroya kvæði/Corpus carminum Færoensium, published between 1941 and 2003.[2] In the last volume, Marianne Clausen presented a large collection of music transcriptions of kvæði melodies, based on sound recordings. Ballads took an important role in the development of Faroese national consciousness and the promotion of literacy in Faroes in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Among the most famous of all kvæði is Ormurin langi written by Jens Christian Djurhuus and today played by the Faroese folk metal band Týr.


  1. For a general introduction, see Michael Chesnutt, 'Aspects of the Faroese Traditional Ballad in the Nineteenth Century', in The Stockholm Ballad Conference 1991: Proceedings of the 21st International Ballad Conference, August 19–22, 1991, ed. By Bengt R. Jonsson, Skrifter utgivna av Svenskt Visarkiv, 12 (Stockholm: Svenskt Visarkiv, 1992), pp. 247-59 (also published as Arv: Scandinavian Yearbook of Folklore, 48 (1992)). For dating, see Michael Chesnutt, `Bevussrímur and Bevusar tættir: A Case Study of Icelandic Influence on Faroese Balladry', Opuscula, 12 (=Bibliotheca Arnamagnæana, 44) (2005), 399-437 (pp. 408-9).
  2. Føroya kvæði = Corpus carminum Færoensium, Sv. Grundtvig and others ed. (Universitets-jubilæets danske samfunds skriftserie, 324, 332, 339, 341, 344, 347, 357, 368, 406, 420, 427, 438, 540, 559), 8 vols, Munksgaard: Copenhagen, 1941–2003.
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