No composer has shaped contemporary Swedish musical life like Sven-David Sandström. His list of works, which counts just over 600 compositions, not only proves an impressive productivity. It also contains an astonishing breadth: from grand operas and oratorios to intimate choral lyrics and chamber music. With his improbable combination of creativity and craftsmanship, restless curiosity and solid form certainty, Sandström switches seemingly unconcernedly between sophisticated orchestral scores and musical melodies, film music and church music.

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


Around 1980, a decisive turning point occurred in Sven-David Sandström's tone. Without abandoning the high demands on his executors, his musical appeal had become simpler, more emotional. The epoch-making requietThose out of all memories fallen, a huge fresco of the Holocaust's infanticide, stands out today as one of the foremost works in 20th-century Swedish music creation. A series of choral works began to flow from Sandström's pen, all eagerly requested by the country's many elite choirs. At the same time, his interest in the stage was awakened, with, among other things, six original ballet scores as a result.


It attracted great attentionHigh Mass(1994), a monumental work for five female vocal soloists, large chorus and orchestra modeled on JS Bach's Mass in B minor. With the text of the fair arranged in 25 movements, just like the model, the tone is nevertheless entirely Sandström's. This powerful mass was also performed ten years later in the Bach city of Leipzig with the Gewandhaus Orchestra under the direction of Herbert Blomstedt and published on Deutsche Grammophon.


Already in the 80s, Sven-David Sandström had composed a couple of choral motets based on baroque models: a kind of tribute to Henry Purcell and Dietrich Buxtehude. AfterHigh Massa sense of kinship with the older masters, especially Bach, developed. Sandström expresses it as a desire to be linked to tradition. Thus he has given usThe word(2004), a comprehensive "passion" with the evangelist party tailored for Anne Sofie von Otter. As librettist he chose the poet Katarina Frostensson, his collaborator already in the successful operaThe city(1996). Further oneChristmas oratorio(2004), the cantataWake up(2008) and, commissioned by Helmuth Rilling's Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart, aMagnificat(2005) with orchestral movement for authentic baroque instruments. Rilling and the Oregon Bach Festival are also behind the commission of the hugeMessiah(2009), composed to exactly the same text as Handel's familiar version.


A special position is occupied by the series of six motets based on Bach's models. The initiative was taken by the choir professor Stefan Parkman and resultedPraise the Lord.
It inspired Ingemar Månsson, once conductor of Hägersten's Motet Choir where Sandström sang in the tenor part for many years, to commission the double-choirSing them Lord. In 2008, Sandström was able to finish this unique collection of motets; each one dedicated to one of Sweden's skilled conductors.


Also in his professional role, Sven-David Sandström was inspired by the great Thomaskantorn. In 2008, when his ten-year composition professorship at the prestigious Indiana University - Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington, USA, came to an end, he was able to realize a long-cherished dream. To, like Bach, compose for all the feasts of the church year. With joy, he undertook to regularly supply music:
one work every two weeks, a total of 66 works, for Gustaf Sjökvist's choirs and ensembles in Storkyrkan and for a more unpretentious suburban choir under Mona Ehntorp's direction in Hässelby parish. This is as unique as it is a generous gift to the Church of Sweden and its lively musical life. The majority is music of varying complexity for choir a cappella, but there are also cantatas for soloist and organ as well as purely instrumental works.

In 2012, Sandström returned to the USA and Indiana University as professor of composition. During the 2010s, a series of large-scale sacred works were added,
a secondRequiem,the monumentalThe Matthew Passion andThe Passion of St. John. In addition, he composed four new solo concertos – for flute, violin, piano and trombone, two symphonies, two chamber operas, and a handful of chamber music pieces, songs and a cappella choral works. Among his last works is also the 'gigantic' operaThe Book of Life, a large-scale poetic interpretation of the biblical stories to a libretto by Niklas Rådström.

Sven-David Sandström passed away on June 10, 2019.

Camilla Lundberg

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