Violinist, constant chamber musician and prankster with a deep religious vein - in 2019, composer Sven-Erik Bäck would have turned 100 years old. He was a strong force within 20th-century Swedish art music life with his wide network of contacts, many collaborations and his large and original output as a composer. Together with Eric Ericson, he explored and renewed choral music, above all in the church sphere.

Sven-Erik Bäck grew up in an apartment on Sankt Eriksgatan in Stockholm, in a bourgeois family with liberal church affiliations. He learned to handle the piano on his own, but he got a violin teacher early on and at the age of nineteen was accepted to the violin class at the music conservatory at the Kgl Musikaliska Akademin, "Ackis". He quickly became a sought-after chamber musician and was a permanent member of several different string quartets. It was also as a chamber musician that he made a living during his first time as a graduate.

During the time at "Ackis", Bäck made contacts with peers who would become important both in professional life and as close friends for life: the composers Ingvar Lidholm and Karl-Birger Blomdahl and the future music critic Bo Wallner, but perhaps above all the choir conductor Eric Ericson. Together with Ericson, Bäck explored above all early music, and the two friends often performed Bach cantatas with a small ensemble in the free church contexts they shared. Already during high school, Bäck had also started composing and continued with it during his education years, but chose to study composition privately with Hilding Rosenberg. Rosenberg stood for a new ideal that in many cases was disliked by the conservatory's teachers.

In the fifties, Bäck and Eric Ericson traveled together with others of the same generation to the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel to immerse themselves in early music and historical playing styles. Above all, the studies of the legendary musicologist Ina Lohr became extremely important for Bäck. Bäck also spent two periods in Rome together with his wife Puck and their young son to study composition with Goffredo Petrassi, who became an important role model for Bäck and who encouraged him to confirm his vocation as a composer.

Bäck was at the core of the Monday Group, an association of composers, musicians and music researchers that was formed to discuss composition when World War II had cut off contact with the outside world. The group became increasingly modernist oriented and the conversations within the group had a major impact on Bäck's development as a composer.

In life, Bäck would on the one hand go deeply into Christian spirituality in his hymn and choral compositions and on the other hand distance himself from the community when he left the Missionary Union, according to himself for theological reasons. He was known as something of a snitch and his humor bordered on the absurd as he stone-facedly uttered the most bizarre ironies. He continued to make music throughout his life, preferably spontaneously and in all kinds of contexts. At his sickbed in the last stage of his life, his friend Ericson set up a piano so that visitors could play music with Bäck if they felt like it.

Sven-Erik Bäck's output as a composer is large and spans the art music genre: electronic music, chamber opera, church motets, solo works and orchestral pieces. He is represented in the Swedish hymnbook in 1986 with seven hymns. Bäck has often, voluntarily or involuntarily, with his music found himself in the eye of the storm in debates about art music and the development of culture. “He used a large number of means of expression and stylistic forms; his inspiration oscillates between historical role models and the spirit of our time and the successive achievements of new music. The relationship between a clear, overall sense of form and energetically impulsive elements characterizes the compositions," writes Hans-Gunnar Peterson on Svensk Musik's website.

Janna Vettergren

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