The Swedish composer Allan Pettersson (1911–80) holds a unique position among 20th century symphonists. During his lifetime he composed concerts, chamber music and songs (including the 24-part song cycle Barefoot Songs), but his fifteen completed symphonies form the core of his production. The symphonies stand out through their extensive playing time, distinctive formal design, characteristic orchestration, and the way in which the composer’s voice speaks to the listener. Pettersson’s music is characterized by sharp contrasts, shifting between bold intensity and calm relaxation, or between complex and violently dissonant passages and restful, simple melodies and harmonies. It is music that can be powerfully gripping and many listeners have described how Pettersson’s music has affected them deeply and profoundly.
Pettersson grew up in a poor, working-class area of Stockholm where he first learned to play the violin, and eventually entered the Royal Swedish Academy of Music's conservatory where he also studied viola. After working as a viola player in an orchestra, he started studying composition with Karl-Birger Blomdahl, Arthur Honegger, and René Leibowitz, among others. Pettersson’s debut as a symphonic composer came in 1953, and in 1964 he was chosen to be among the first group of composers to receive a lifelong guaranteed minimum income from the Swedish State. His breakthrough came in 1968 with the premiere of his Symphony No. 7, which became a tremendous success. The symphony is today considered a Swedish 20th century classic, being played regularly and is available in several recordings.