David Sawer (born 14 September 1961), is a British composer of opera and choral, orchestral and chamber music.[1]


Sawer was born in Stockport, England. After attending Ipswich School,[2] he studied music at the University of York where he began composing contemporary music-theatre pieces. He directed the UK premiere of Mauricio Kagel's Kantrimiusik at the ICA, conducted the UK premieres of Mare Nostrum and Szenario, and appeared as solo performer in Phonophonie at the South Bank Centre, London, and in the world premiere of Harrison Birtwistle's Gawain at the Royal Opera House.

In 1984 he won a DAAD scholarship to study with Mauricio Kagel in Cologne. Even from this point his career, Sawer's music tends to define each piece within theatrical terms. Indeed, Sawer has described himself as a "theatre person". His works often reference the visual arts, and in particular surrealist imagery. For example, his piano piece, The Melancholy of Departure was inspired by the shadowy and irrational perspectives of a De Chirico painting.

In 1992 Sawer was awarded the Fulbright-Chester-Schirmer-Scholarship; he won a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award in 1993, an Arts Foundation Fellowship in 1995 and a residence with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in 1996. In 2007 he featured in a composer portrait concert as part of the Philharmonia's 'Music of Today' series. He was awarded a Civitella Ranieri Foundation Fellowship in 2006 and a MacDowell Fellowship, taking residence in 2016. He teaches composition at the Royal Academy of Music, London.[3]

Sawer has received numerous commissions that have resulted in impressive works for the concert hall, dance, film, theatre and radio. His 50-minute radio composition Swansong (1989), a collage of orchestral, choral and electronic sounds, inspired by the work of Hector Berlioz, won a Sony Radio Award[4] and a Prix Italia Special Mention.

Sawer's work reflects a variety of influences, from Igor Stravinsky[5] to György Ligeti and Luciano Berio. Certain characteristics remain from his early music: for instance the blurring of background and foreground in his first orchestral work, Trompe l'oeil (1982; since withdrawn).

Ensembles who have performed his work include Asko/Schoenberg Ensemble, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Continuum Ensemble, Israel Contemporary Players, Juilliard Ensemble, Klangforum Wien, London Sinfonietta,[6] Lontano, musikFabrik, Oberlin Sinfonietta, Remix Ensemble/Porto, Riot Ensemble and Tokyo Sinfonietta. Orchestras who have performed his work include Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, Basel Sinfonietta, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Philharmonic, Britten Sinfonia, Hallé, Hessischer Rundfunk Frankfurt, Netherlands Radio Symphony, Norddeutscher Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester, Norrköping Symfoniorkester, ORF Symphonieorchester, Philharmonia Orchestra, West Australian Symphony Orchestra. Conductors of his work include George Benjamin, Martyn Brabbins, Andrew Davis, Paul Daniel, Sian Edwards, Mark Elder, Richard Farnes, Reinbert de Leeuw, Brad Lubman, Susanna Mälkki, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Ilan Volkov, Mark Wigglesworth.

In the theatre, he has worked with playwrights Howard Barker, Edward Bond, Nick Dear, Paul Godfrey and David Harrower. His score for Gogol's Government Inspector at the Young Vic theatre was described as "what may be the best soundtrack I've ever heard in the world of straight theatre" (The Arts Desk).

His music is published by Universal Edition and Edition Peters.

Selected worksEdit

Stage worksEdit

Recent works include Flesh and Blood, a dramatic scene for two voices and orchestra, premiered at the Barbican by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ilan Volkov, with soloists Christine Rice and Marcus Farnsworth, Wonder, for SATB choir, included in the Choirbook for the Queen, a concert suite of Rumpelstiltskin , premiered by BCMG at the Wigmore Hall, conducted by George Benjamin, and The Lighthouse Keepers, a radio play based on a Grand Guignol play, adapted by David Harrower, for the 2013 Cheltenham Festival. Future commissions include works for Onyx Brass/2014 New Music Biennial, Aurora Orchestra/NMC Recordings/Science Museum, London Sinfonietta/Royal Ballet/RPS Drummond Fund, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group/Feeney Trust and the BBC Singers.

Orchestral worksEdit

  • Byrnan Wood (1992)
  • Trumpet Concerto (1994)
  • Tiroirs, for chamber ensemble (1996)
  • the greatest happiness principle (1997)
  • Piano Concerto (2002) winner of British Academy British Composer Award in the orchestra category/Venice Biennale.
  • Rebus, for chamber ensemble (2004)
  • April \ March for large chamber ensemble (2016)[6] choreographed by Aletta Collins for Royal Ballet (Blue Moon)

Choral worksEdit

  • Songs of Love and War (1990)
  • Sounds: Three Kandinsky Poems (1996–99)
  • Stramm Gedichte (2002)
  • How Among the Frozen Words (2019)

Chamber worksEdit

  • The force that through the green fuse for flute, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, piano, 2 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos (1981) (withdrawn)
  • Cat's-Eye for 2 clarinets, trumpet, trombone, harp, piano, viola and violoncello (1986); choreographed by Richard Alston for Ballet Rambert; design by Paul Huxley
  • Take Off for flute, 2 clarinets, piano, violin, viola and violoncello (1987)
  • Between for harp; first performed by Osian Ellis in 1989
  • Good Night for alto flute/piccolo, harp, violin, viola and violoncello (1989)
  • Satz for violin, violoncello and piano (2007)
  • Bronze and Iron for brass quintet (2013)
  • Coachman Chronos for nine players (2014)
  • Caravanserai for 14 players (2015) commissioned by The John Feeney Charitable Trust


  • Endgame (Old Vic); The Trial, Public Enemy, Government Inspector, The Good Soul of Szechuan (Young Vic); Hamlet (RSC); The Blue Ball (National Theatre); Food of Love (Almeida); Jackets (Bush).


  • Swansong, The Long Time Ago Story (with Rose English/BBC Radio 3 Between the Ears)


  • Rumpelstilzchen (Curzon Cinemas/Sky Arts)

External linksEdit


  • "Sawer, David in Oxford Music Online". www.oxfordmusiconline.com. Retrieved 4 March 2010. (Requires login or UK library card)


  1. ^ "David Sawer - the composer's life and work | Universal Edition". Universal Edition. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  2. ^ Jones, Gareth (26 September 2011). "Review: Andrew Leach – Piano, Ipswich School Festival, September 22". East Anglian Daily Times. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014.
  3. ^ "Staff - David Sawer - Royal Academy of Music". www.ram.ac.uk. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  4. ^ NME Recordings - David Sawer. Accessed 25 February 2016
  5. ^ Rayfield Allied - artists: David Sawer. Accessed 25 February 2016
  6. ^ a b "April \ March". Royal Philharmonic Society. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  7. ^ Review in The Times
  8. ^ Clements, Andrew (16 November 2009). "Rumpelstiltskin | Music theatre" – via www.theguardian.com.
  9. ^ "Major New Commission for 2018 | Garsington Opera". www.garsingtonopera.org. Retrieved 18 August 2018.