Leifur Þórarinsson was born in Reykjavík on 13 August 1934, and died on 24 April 1998 at the age of only 63. He began violin studies with Þorvaldur Steingrímsson at an early age, progressing to the Reykjavík College of Music, where he studied with Björn Ólafsson. He also studied theory and composition with Jón Þórarinsson, who had recently returned to Iceland from Yale University in the USA, where his principal mentor was Paul Hindemith. At the age of twenty Leifur Þórarinsson left Iceland to pursue further studies in Vienna and Munich in 1954-56, under the supervision of Karl Schizke, Wilhelm Killmayer and Hans Jelinek; Jelinek was a student of Alban Berg, one of the pioneers of twelve-tone technique. In 1959 Þórarinsson returned to the USA, where he remained off-and-on until 1966. He studied initially with Wallingford Riegger, a pioneer of serialism in America, first at the Manhattan School of Music, and subsequently in all fields of composition in New York and Tanglewood. On his return to Iceland in 1966, Þórarinsson pursued composition, but also did many other kinds of work. He was a radio announcer and programmer with Iceland National Broadcasting Service for many years, and was also employed in teaching, journalism and reporting. He was involved in group activities of Icelandic composers, and was one of the founders of the Iceland Music Information Centre in the 1960s.
Leifur Þórarinsson was a versatile composer. His oeuvre includes a number of large, impressive symphonic works: an Oboe Concerto, a Violin Concerto and three symphonies. His works of chamber music number several dozen, not to mention his compositions for solo instruments, solo singers and choirs, and many shorter orchestral works. He was a pioneer of serialism in Iceland, moulded in the Schoenberg tradition in Vienna and the USA. But a lyrical and romantic voice may often be discerned in his work, which spans a variety of styles. He wrote popular songs and jazz along with his purely classical concert pieces, and also composed music for over forty theatrical productions.