Oscar Sandberg (1870−1926)


Oscar Teodor Sandberg, born on 1st December 1870 in Kristianstad and died on 12 December 1926 in Stockholm, was a church musician, music teacher and composer. After studying at the Royal Conservatory of Music, he served as a music teacher and music critic. From 1903 cantor at Oscarskyrkan in Stockholm, where he founded the so-called motet evenings. Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1921. As a composer he wrote mainly choral music and was one of the editors of the choral music anthology Musica Sacra (1915).


Background, education and employment

Oscar Sandberg was born in Kristianstad, where his father was a factory owner. He graduated in Lund in 1891 and the following year commenced studies at Kungliga Musikkonservatoriet (the Royal Conservatory of Music), where he graduated in 1895 with degrees as organist, precentor and music teacher. He continued at the Musikkonservatoriet under the supervision of Joseph Dente with further studies in counterpoint and composition until 1898. The previous year he had been a teacher at Södermalm’s music institute and embarked on a career as a writer, first as a music critic for the Social-Demokraten daily newspaper. Parallel to his musical activities, in 1900 he also began employment as an official of the Statens Järnvägar (the national railways).

In 1903 Oscar Sandberg accepted a position as cantor at the newly erected Oscar’s Church in Stockholm. Four years later he became the klockare (an administrative position) of the parish and left his service with the railways. That year he also quit his position at Södermalm’s music institute in order to begin a post as music teacher at Jakob’s secondary school, a post he retained until 1923 when he assumed the same position at Norra Latinläroverket, which he then held for the rest of his life. By 1907 Sandberg had left his occupation as a music critic at Social-Demokraten for similar duties at Aftonbladet, where he remained until 1910.

Notable choirmaster

It was as a choirmaster that Oscar Sandberg made his most significant contribution to Swedish music. The choir that he founded, the Oscar’s Church Choir, earned a reputation as one of the country’s finest choirs, particularly through the regular church concerts (typically four per year) which Sandberg began to organise in 1909 together with the church’s organist Patrik Vretblad. These so-called motettaftnar (motet evenings) quickly became an institution in the capital’s music scene. Sandberg led his choir in 62 motettaftnar, with this tradition continuing even after his death by his successor, Carl-Oscar Othzén. One purpose of the concert evenings was to highlight older polyphonic church music, and they can therefore be seen as part of the church music reform efforts of the time.

These concerts also provided Sandberg with the opportunity to present his own choral compositions. That he was also interested in church music reform as a composer is revealed in the preface to his Musik till Introitus i den evangeliska gudstjänsten (1921), in which he states that ‘the church modes, with their distinctive serious character, to a much greater degree than major and minor keys possess the ability to express various religious sentiments in a more multifaceted and dignified manner’, and he further refers to the ‘historical continuity within the agelong, authentic tradition, which allows all liturgical music to be rooted in Gregorian chant and its church modes.’

Sandberg’s good reputation as a choirmaster among his church musician colleagues is attested to by the fact that at the second general meeting of organists in 1912 he was called upon to lecture on the subject ‘Choral singing in the church service’. It was probably mainly due to his achievements with the motettaftnarna that he was awarded the Swedish royal medal Litteris et Artibus in 1913.

Oscar Sandberg was very active as a choral conductor, including as such with the Sjung Sjung Choral Society in Stockholm, and from 1916 with the Par Bricole Choir, also in Stockholm. During the 1918−19 season he appeared as a guest conductor at the Kungliga Teatern (the Royal Opera). He was also one of two directors of the so-called Antwerp Choir, a by initiative of the Svenska sångarförbundet’s (the Swedish Vocal Society’s) provisionally composed male choir, which appeared at, among others, the Antwerp Olympic Games during the summer of 1920. The following year, Sandberg and the Oscar’s Church Choir received the unusual assignment of performing to the acclaimed motion picture Vallfarten till Kevlaar (after Heinrich Heine’s epic poem), a performance that received positive reviews from film critics.

Assignments in the music industry

Oscar Sandberg was also involved in endeavours with various music organisations. In 1910 he was one of the founders of the local Stockholm section of the International Music Society (Internationale Musikgesellschaft, IMG) and he was treasurer there until 1919, when it was closed down and replaced by the newly formed Svenska samfundet för musikforskning (the Swedish Society for Musicology). Sandberg became treasurer in the new organisation as well and was under consideration as a writer for its periodical, Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning  (although nothing came of this). 1912−14 he was chairman of the Stockholms stifts kyrkomusikerförening (the Stockholm diocese’s organisation of church musicians) and in 1917 he was a vocal instructor for Svenska sångarförbundet, at that time the national organisation for male choirs,. He also had assignments with the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Music), partly as a member of the ‘committee for the regulation of singing at public secondary schools’ (from 1919) and as a member of the board of the ‘People’s School of Choral Singing’ in Stockholm (from 1920). In 1921 he was elected to be a member of the Kungliga Musikaliska akademien.


Oscar Sandberg’s output only includes, as far as is known, works for choir and liturgical music. Several of his shorter choral hymns and motets were printed in the extensive Musica sacra collection, of which he himself was the publisher and one of the four editors. He also composed male quartets and a few larger choral works: King David’s Psalm 100, three church cantatas and two celebratory cantatas for secular use. His introit antiphons for the main Sunday service, characterised by the use of church modes, were published in 1921. His sacred compositions for mixed choir, however, are in a more traditional romantic musical style. They are mainly homophonic, but also include features of imitation.

Sverker Jullander © 2015
Trans. Thalia Thunander

Publications by the composer

Musica Sacra. Körsånger för kyrka och skola, Herman Palm, Oscar Sandberg, Harald Fryklöf & Albert Hellerström (eds)2 vol., Stockholm: Direktör Oscar Sandberg, 1915.
Festskrift vid Oscars-kyrkans motettaftnars 10-årsjubileum den 10 december 1919, Oscar Sandberg & Patrik Vretblad (eds), Stockholm: Oscarskyrkan, 1919.


Adell, Arthur: ‘In memoriam’, in: Tidskrift för kyrkomusik och svenskt gudstjänstliv 2, no. 1, 1927.
Bengtsson, Ingmar:
‘Svenska samfundet för musikforskning 50 år (1919–1968)’, in: Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning 51, 1969.
Lindblad, Göran (ed.):
‘Oscar Sandberg’, in: Vem är det? Svensk biografisk handbok 1925, Stockholm: P. A. Norstedt & söner, 1924.
Vretblad, Patrik & Othzén, Carl Oscar:
Motettaftnarna i Oscars kyrka 1909–1929. Stockholm, 1929.

Summary list of works

Choral works, liturgical music.

Collected works

Incomplete list of Works

Larger choral works
Cantata for the installationen of pastor Samuel Fries in Oscarskyrkan on 1 September 1907, composed for solo, choir and organ.
Cantata for the dedication of the church.
Church cantata (title unknown).
Cantatas for celebrations (2 pieces, titles unknown).
Psalm 100.

Mixed choir
In the collection Musica sacra (Stockholm, 1915) 1. Giv, o Gud, mig ljus och styrka, 2. Jesu, värdes hos oss bliva, 3. Se, ärans konung drager, 4. Som, Jesu, med förklarad kropp, 5. Vad sällhet att få bo i Herrens gårdar [likely from Kantat vid kyrkoinvigning].

Men’s choir
The song (‘Säg har du hört när sångens toner’), in: Sånger för mansröster, Sällskapet för svenska kvartettsångens befrämjande.
Sjung, in: Gammalt och nytt; Fyrstämmiga sånger för mansröster, Stockholm: Carl Johnn, 1913.

Liturgical music
Music for the Introit in the evangelical church service, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1921.