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 600 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.

Search for works in catalogue »

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.

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 Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington, 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.

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.


Camilla Lundberg

Biographical dates and awards

  • Born in Borensberg, Sweden, 1942
  • 1968–1972 Studies in composition with Ingvar Lidholm at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, and with guest professors György Ligeti, Per Nörgård and others
  • 1974 The Little Christ Johnson Prize for Through and Through
  • 1981 The newspaper Expressen's music award - Spelmannen
  • 1984 The Nordic Council´s Prize for Missa da Requiem
  • 1985–1995 Professor in composition at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm
  • 1994 The Royal medal Litteris et artibus
  • 1995 The Big Christ Johnson Prize for High Mass
  • 1995–1998 Deputy vice-chancellor at the Royal College of Music
    in Stockholm
  • 1998 Honorary Doctor Faculty of Sciences and Educational Sciences at Linköping University
  • 1999–2008 Professor in composition at Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University, Bloomington, USA
  • 2001 The Hugo Alfvén Prize
  • 2008 The Swedish Music Publishers´ Award for Lifetime Achievement
  • 2009 The Medal for the Promotion of Music from the Royal Swedish Academy of Music
  • 2012–2018  Professor in composition at Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University, Bloomington, USA
  • 2013 The Swedish Music Publisher’s Award for Requiem
  • 2015 Honorary Doctor at Karlstad University
  • 2019 The Royal Swedish Academy of Music's Composer's Prize
  • Died in Stockholm, Sweden, 2019


Selected works:

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