Sven-David Sandström (photo:Mats Bäcker)
Sven-David Sandström (photo:Mats Bäcker)

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.

Camilla Lundberg 2010

In 2012 Sven-David Sandström returned to the US and the Indiana University as professor of composition. 
The 2010s saw the premieres of a number of large scale sacred vocal works, including his second Requiem, the monumental St. Matthew Passion and the Passion of St John. In addition he has also composed four new solo concertos – for flute, violin, piano and trombone, two symphonies, two chamber operas, and a series of chamber music works, songs and a cappella choral works. On top of that he composed a “gigantic” opera, The Book, built on Niklas Rådström’s comprehensive poetical interpretation of the Biblical narratives.

Sven-David passed away on 10 June 2019.

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