Sven-David Sandström

No composer has made such an impression on contemporary Swedish musical life as Sven-David Sandström. His catalogue of works, which includes some 300 compositions, gives proof not only of an impressive productivity, but also contains an amazingly wide range: everything from magnificent operas and oratorios to intimate choral and chamber music.

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With his unlikely combination of creativity and diligence in the craft of composition, restless curiosity and firmly-rooted mastery of form, Sandström alternates, to all appearances unconcerned, between a sophisticated orchestral texture and musical melodies, film music and music for the church. In the 2000s he has focused especially on sacred choral music.

Sven-David Sandström had his breakthrough in 1972 with Through and through, an orchestral work that was met with international response when two years later it was performed by the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. Sandström quickly established himself as a leading modernist in the younger generation of Scandinavian composers, not seldom with scores of a terrifying degree of difficulty. Pierre Boulez chose, for example, to conduct his piece Utmost with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Around 1980 a decisive turning point occurred in Sven-David Sandström's tone language. Without abandoning the high demands on his executants his musical form of address became simpler, more emotional. The epoch-making Requiem - De ur alla minnen fallna, a mighty fresco over the infanticide of the Holocaust, stands out today as one of the most prominent works in 20th-century Swedish music. A number of choral works began to pour from Sandström's pen, all of them eagerly sought after by Sweden's many elite choirs. At the same time his interest in the stage was aroused and resulted in, among other works, six original ballet scores.

    High Mass (1994), a monumental work for five female vocal soloists, large choir and orchestra, modelled on J.S. Bach´s Mass in B minor, was received with high acclaim. It became the starting point for a series of works inspired by Bach: A Christmas Oratorio (2004), the cantata Wachet auf (2008) and a Magnificat (2005). The series of six motets after Bach´s originals occupies a special position.

   Also in his occupational role Sven-David Sandström has been inspired by the great cantor of St. Thomas. In 2008, when his ten-year professorship in composition at the prestigious Bloomington University in Indiana came to an end, he was able to realise a long-cherished dream: to compose, like Bach, for all the feast days of the ecclesiastical year. He gladly took upon himself to deliver music on a regular basis: one work every other week, all in all 66 works, for the choirs and ensembles of the Stockholm Cathedral and the Hässelby congregation.

Since the autumn of 2012 Sven-David Sandström is back in the US and the Indiana University as professor of composition. At the same time he continues to compose at the same pace as earlier. The last few years has seen the premieres of a number of large scale vocal works for soloists, choir and orchestra, as his second Requiem, the monumental St. Matthew Passion, and The Passion of John. In addition he has also composed chamber music works, or Pieces, as he calls them, for different instrumental groups; quintets, quartets, trios , duos etc, three solo concertos for violin, flute and piano, respectively, as well as a concerto for piano trio and orchestra. And of course a number of new a cappella works for choir.

Camilla Lundberg

Selected works:

  • The Eleventh Dawn 
  • Drums 
  • En ny himmel och en ny jord (A New Heaven and a New Earth)
  • Hear My Prayer
  • High Mass
  • Magnificat
  • Matthäuspassion
  • Requiem