Photo by Ulla Montán

Composer of the Month #3 is Sven-David Sandström

This interview was done only weeks before Sven-David, our dear friend and companion since decades, passed away on the 10th of June 2018. Thank you for all the music, Sven-David, and for sharing your thoughts with us in what was to be one of your last interviews. You will be missed.

"No other composer has made such an impression on contemporary Swedish musical life", states prestigious Indiana University Bloomington of it's former professor of composition Sven-David Sandström. His tonal language and his many projects following in the footsteps of JS Bach have made him one of the most beloved choral composers of our time. 

"I understand now how much music means to me"
(Interview from April 2019)

"What is music? Everyone says that’s a difficult question, but it’s really not. I live in and through my music and it shapes my whole life. I have been very sick lately, and without music this period in my life would have been unbearable. Music has been my refuge. Still, after all these years, music gives me great revelations, both when listening to it and when creating it. I understand now how much it means to me."

What are your thoughts on Swedish choral music?
"It is unique and has some kind of... sentiment, you might call it, that invites us to listen. Why is it of such  a high standard internationally? It’s difficult to say. Of course, the language plays an important role. The Danish language, which I have worked with a lot, has a very unusual timbre. I also have a special relationship to English. American English evokes a sense of musicals, it gives a kind of diphthong experience that is very different from Swedish or Latin. Different languages create completely different atmospheres." 

How does your own voice sound? 
"I have a very strong dialect, from the southeastern part of Sweden (Östergötland). I can hear it when listening to myself in radio interviews, for example. I’m still surprised to hear the sound of my own voice (much laughter)! I used to sing in choirs 30 years ago, and there you can’t hear the individual dialects. As a chorister, you have to adapt to your co-singers. It’s essential that it is a choir sound that comes out. Opera trios, for example, can be horrible as choir music, but fantastic as opera. It’s important to try to find that collective tone with all the different voices, but it takes time. It’s a question of effort. You have to put a lot of effort into that kind of work!" 

How do you chose your texts? 
"The text is the most difficult part of composing, I think. I never choose texts myself anymore. People send me texts and I like to be surprised. The text is important – if the singers engage in the text, you have really achieved something." 

Has your view on music changed over the years? 
"I think more about the choristers today than I used to. If you get through to them, the end result will be better. Maybe you can even have personal contact with them. I have been in this business for such a long time, I know almost everyone by now. I think: I hope you’ll like what I’ve written! I hope they will care about my work.

The style is very different from what it was in the 60s and 70s. That’s a historical phenomenon, of course. Sometimes you are in the lead, sometimes you follow the trends. I have always tried to be in the lead and I think I have succeeded quite often. Slowly, the expression and the character of music change. I mean, Brahms and Schoenberg are pretty far apart stylistically, even though they lived during the same era. History turns and the composers turn with it – hopefully."


Three choral pieces by Sven-David Sandström:
Hear my prayer, o Lord (H Purcell/S-D Sandström). Sandström takes over where Purcell's music ends and makes it his own, with his characteristic tremolo. Perhaps Sandström's most famous choir piece. SSAATTBB a cappella (medium level).
In paradisum. Beautiful choral harmonies to renaissance words from the Requiem mass. SMzATBarB a cappella (medium level).
Lobet den Herrn (Motet nr 1). After JS Bach's model, Sandström has composed six motets to the same words as the baroque master. For double choir a cappella (advanced level).

Read Gehrman's tribute to Sven-David on the news of his death

Read more about Sven-David Sandström
Interview with Sven-David Sandström his work in the footsteps of Bach
Listen to Let him kiss me, from Four Love Songs (Sofia Vokalensemble and Bengt Ollén, conductor)
Watch Wiener Kammerchor sing Lobet den Herrn