Svante Sjöberg (1873−1935)


Svante Leonard Sjöberg was born in Karlskrona on 28 August 1873 and he died in in the same town on 18 January 1935. He was a composer, church organist and choir director. For many years, he was Karlskrona’s most formidable music figure as a director of the local music society and conductor of the community orchestra, and more. Sjöberg’s most famous work is his violin sonata from 1899. He also worked as a critic, author, and from 1926 as chairman of Sweden’s national association of church musicians.


Early years

Svante Sjöberg grew up in a family of modest means. His father worked as a janitor at a school and a church (and, according to one source, he was a certified goldsmith). Despite this, Svante started secondary school in his hometown at age 11 and, already as a child, he was determined to make his way as a musician.

Upon graduating in 1893, he was accepted as a student to Kungliga Musikkonservatoriet (the Royal Conservatory of Music) in Stockholm, completing his degree in organ performance two years later. The ensuing year he graduated as a precentor and a music teacher. In 1895 he began taking lessons in music theory and composition from the Hovkapellet (the Royal Court Orchestra) conductors Joseph Dente and Conrad Nordqvist (the latter may additionally have taught Sjöberg in string instruments). He continued with these studies even after he had completed his degrees in music, until he returned to his hometown in 1897. Here in Karlskrona he began to work as a substitute organist at Fredrik Church. He started his music teaching career at Karlskrona’s high school for girls in 1898.

Svante Sjöberg departed for Berlin in 1900 after receiving a national composition scholarship award, financing his studies there for the next three years. In Berlin, his most famous teacher was the composer Max Bruch (1838−1920). In addition, he studied organ with Otto Becker (1870−1954), conducting with Robert Hausmann (1852−1909) and piano with Carl August Heymann-Rheineck (1852−1922).

At the heart of Karlskrona music society

In 1901, while Svante Sjöberg was still in Berlin, he received a position as music teacher at Karlskrona High School. Back in his hometown, he assumed leadership of the newly formed Music Society (primarily a choir club) in March 1902. Later that year he began working as a church organist and choir director in the city parish and its main church, Fredrik Church. 19 April 1903 he conducted the Music Society in a performance of Haydn's Creation. This first performance precipitated the formation of a comprehensive music programme, where for the next three decades Sjöberg assembled the city’s music resources to perform numerous oratorios and other large works for choir and orchestra.

On the programme were classical sacred works such as J.S. Bach’s St John Passion, Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s oratorios St Paul and Elijah, Mozart’s Requiem and Brahms’ German Requiem, Schumann’s Paradise and the Peri, Gade’s Erl King’s Daughter and his teacher Bruch’s Song of the Bell. In addition, Sjöberg led three or four symphony orchestra concerts per year with the orchestra society in which he had been one of the initiating founders in 1913.

Sjöberg was a versatile musician, who in addition to his conducting activities also was a prominent organ soloist, and he even performed as both a vocal soloist and in chamber music (as a pianist and viola player). Moreover, he was frequently employed as a public speaker on the topic of church music and for other occasions (such as recurring guest speaker at the Karlskrona public speaking club) and worked as a music critic, teacher of courses in church music, and as a private tutor. In light of his key posts in the local music organisations in addition to his multifaceted activities, Svante Sjöberg was a leading musical personality throughout his entire professional life in Karlskrona; he was described flat out as ‘the dictator’.

A wider perspective

Svante Sjöberg's engagements stretched even outside the city limits, as expressed by several appointments in other contexts. He was one of the initiators of the Lund diocese church choir organisation and was a member of the interim board of directors from 1925, and took the position of Vice Chairman at its formation in 1927. He was also engaged in unions and politics. In 1918 he became Chairman of the Lund diocese organist and music director organisation; in 1922, Chairman of the Östra and Medelsta district’s organist, music director and teachers association. At a national level, he was elected in 1921 as representative of the central committee for the civic organist and music director association of Sweden, where he was Chairman from 1926. He was also a member of the editorial staff for the church music journal Tidskrift för kyrkomusik och svenskt gudstjänstliv from its establishment in 1926, participating as both writer and debater in church music matters. Additionally, he was a member of the Karlskrona City municipal council. Sobered by illness in his final years, he was nevertheless actively engaged to the very end.

Despite carrying out his life works at a distance from the great music metropolises, Svante Sjöberg received attention at a national level. In 1918, he received the royal medal of honour Litteris et artibus, and in 1926 he was conferred the honour of the Royal Order of Vasa. In 1930 he became a member of the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music).

Svante Sjöberg was an enthusiastic, driven leader with an exceptional capacity for work. It is striking that he was never believed to have surrendered posts or duties when a better offer arose. One music teaching position became two; one conducting position also became two, and one union chairman post, three. During this hectic activity within an incessantly widening field of enterprise, it is hardly surprising that his own composing, despite a promising start, suffered. In 1934 his friend and colleague, composer Otto Olsson, characterised him as: ‘a thoroughly educated musician, an energy loaded enthusiast, a unifying central point, a personality’.


A complete picture of Sjöberg’s compositional activity does not yet exist. Much suggests that the main portion of his production came around the turn of the century, that is, during and close after his study years; the main exception is three cantatas from the years 1912−15.  Svante Sjöberg’s only large work that was published − and the only one that has received any attention today, with concert performances and a radio recording − is also one of his earliest: the violin sonata from 1898. Published by Musikaliska konstföreningen (the Swedish Art Music Society) in 1899, the sonata is characterised by a rather conservative, classical romantic style. The work that Sjöberg had the most success with during his lifetime was the overture Gustaf Vasa, released in 1901 during his study years in Berlin, and it was performed both in Germany and by the top Swedish orchestras. After one of the performances by the Musikföreningen i Stockholm (the Stockholm Music Society) on 3 March 1903, a reviewer at Idun magazine characterised the work as ‘a striking and cleverly constructed work after known role models’.

Sjöberg’s other works, including orchestral music, cantatas, choral works, piano music and solo songs, are mostly forgotten today. It is not known whether or not he tried to publish his own works. The cantatas are occasional works for such ceremonies as anniversaries of the Order of Odd Fellows (of which he himself was a member) and the re-dedication of Fredrik Church. Several of his lesser works are thought to have been induced by personal motives, including his piano piece ‘Tankar’ (Thoughts), which is dedicated to his future wife. Although the organ was Sjöberg’s main instrument, it is not known if he actually composed for this instrument.

Sverker Jullander © 2015
Trans. Thalia Thunander

Publications by the composer

(All printed in Tidskrift för kyrkomusik och svenskt gudstjänstliv.)

En högmässogudstjänst från musikalisk synpunkt, vol. 1, 1926, pp. 5−8.
Kyrkokören, vol. 2 (1927), s. 81–85. Även i Kyrkomusikernas tidning, vol. 76, no. 9, 2010, pp. 4−8.
Handboksreformen, vol. 2, 1927, pp. 186−190.
Erfarenheter från bruket av 'Koraler till Nya Psalmer', vol. 4, 1929, pp. 1−5.


Jacobsson, Stig: Svante Sjöberg, Svensk Musiks hemsida
Jonsson, Leif och Martin Tegen: 'Musiklivet privat och offentligt', in: L. Jonsson & M. Tegen (eds), Musiken i Sverige, vol. 3, Den nationella identiteten 1810−1920, pp. 99−128.
Karlsson, Leif: Svante Sjöberg. En portalgestalt i Karlskronas musikliv i det tidiga 1900-talet, Karlskrona: self-published, 2010.
Kyrkomusik i Lunds stift under 1900-talet, Stiftshistoriska sällskapet i Lunds stifts årsbok 2005, Erkki Mörck (ed.), Lund: Arcus förlag, 2005.
Lundevall, Anders
: 'Sjöberg, Svante Leonard', in: Sohlmans musiklexikon, vol. 4, 1st ed., Stockholm: Sohlmans förlag, 1952.
Olsson, Otto: 'Svante Sjöberg', Tidskrift för kyrkomusik och svenskt gudstjänstliv, vol. 9, 1934, pp. 99−102.
Riemann, Hugo: Musik-Lexikon, vol. 2, 7th ed., Leipzig: Max Hesses Verlag, 1909.

Summary list of works

Orchestral works (the overture Gustaf Vasa, Concert Overture), chamber music (violin sonata), piano music, songs, choral music.

Collected works

This list of works is not complete.

Orchestral works

Concert Overture in D minor op. 3, 1898 [1903, according to another source].
Gustaf Vasa, overture, 1901.

Chamber music
Sonata in A minor for violin and piano op. 2 [designated as op. 1 in the autograph], 1898. Stockholm: Musikaliska konstföreningen, 1899.

Piano music
Tankar, 1903. 

Ett afsked, 1894.
En sorglig visa, 1896.
Allvar, 1897.
Nun ist der Sommer gegangen, op. 4:1, 1901.
Two songs for one voice and piano. Stockholm: Abr. Lundqvist, 1896.

Choral music
Two motets, 1896.
A song (for male voices), 1897.
Cantata for 10 year anniversary of the Order of Odd Fellows' lodge no. 26 in Blekinge, 1912.
Cantata for 25 year anniversary of the Order of Odd Fellows' lodge in Malmö, 1913.
Cantata at the inauguration [for the re-dedication of the Fredrik Church, Karlskrona] for soprano, baritone, mixed choir, boys' choir and organ, 1915.
På Doms-söndagen ('Stöten i basun'), miced choi a cappella, 1913.
David's 23rd psalm for baritone, mixed choir and orchestra [year of composition unknown].

Works by Svante Sjöberg

This is not a complete list of works. The following works are those that have been inventoried so far.

Number of works: 1