Atli Heimir Sveinsson was born in Reykjavík, Iceland 1938. He grew up in a musical family and was sent to the Youth Music School of Dr. Heinz Edelstein and the age of 9. He took piano lessons at Reykjavík College of Music where he studied with Rögnvaldur Sigurjónsson.

He studied af Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Cologne,  Germany, from 1959-1963

He studied composition with Günter Raphael and Rudolf Petzold, instrumentation with Bernd Alois Zimmermann.

He also took private lessons in composition with Gottfried Michael Koenig.

Sveinsson received his diploma ( Künstlerische Reifeprüfung) in composition and theory in 1963.

During this year he attended the summer courses in Darmstadt.

In 1964 he studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen at Kölner Kurse für neue Musik at Reinische Musikhochschule

In 1965 he went to Holland and studied electronic music with Gottfried Michael Koenig in Bilthoven.

Sveinsson has since lived in Iceland. He founded class of composition at Reykjavík College of music.

Among his students are Atli Ingólfsson, Haukur Tómasson, Thorsteinn Hauksson, Kjartan Ólafsson and Sveinn Lúðvíg Björnsson.

He was free-lance producer at Icelandic State Broadcasting Service producing very popular programs on musical history.

Sveinsson was president of Icelandic Composers Association 1972-1983.

He organised the festival and General Assembly of International Society for Contemporary Music in Iceland in 1973. He was also president of the Nordic Composers Council 1974-1976 and organised the Nordic Music Days in Reykjavík 1976. These events were turning point in the musical live in Iceland, establishing closer links to Scandinavia, the Europe and USA.

In 1980 Sveinsson founded Dark Music Days, a festival for contemporary Icelandic music, that took first place biennially and later became an  annual forum where Icelandic composers presented their latest works.

Sveinsson has lectured at many universities in Scandinavia, Europe and USA. In 2002 Sveinsson was a guest professor in musical composition and theory at the Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, USA.

Sveinsson was elected member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1993

In 2004 Sveinsson was appointed „composer in residence“of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra.

In 1976 Sveinsson was the first Icelander to be awarded the Nordic Music Prize, given biennially by the five Nordic countries Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Dane mark and Finland, for his Flute Concerto.

Since 1992 Sveinsson receives a lifetime honorary salary from the Icelandic Parliament.

Sveinsson has composed  following operas: The Damask drum for the National theatre in Reykjavík in 1980, and later performed in Venezuela on the Simon Bolivar Festival for theatre and drama; Vikivaki,1982 a television opera commissioned by the state broadcast television stations in the Nordic countries and shown simultaneously in Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland; My father’s country,  a musical for the Municipal theatre in Reykjavík which was performed 218 times, The moonlight island,  premiered in Beijing in 1996 and performed at the National theatre in Reykjavík.

His operas still to be premiered are the chamber opera Hertervig written on the libretto of the Norwegian poet Paal-Helge Haugen and The conversion, commissioned by the Icelandic Opera in Reykjavík.

Sveinsson has composed nine solo concertos and many orchestral pieces, chamber music, choral music and songs, Time and water, a ballet oratorio on the poem by Steinn Steinarr.

Among his chamber and orchestral music can be mentioned Iter mediae noctis commissioned by the Cathedral in Gothenburg, Sweden; Flower shower for orchestra and tape, commissioned by the Symphony Orchestra in Narrowing, Sweden; Aria  and The country that does not exist commissioned by the Maros Ensemble in Stockholm; Plutôt blanche q´azurée commissioned by the Danish Trio, Odense, Denmark; Trobar clus, a concerto for bassoon and orchestra commissioned by the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Icerapp (Rondo fantastico) commissioned by MW 1 in Warsaw and Icerapp 2000 commissioned by the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and performed 15 times on their tour in USA in 2001. Sign of fire (Piano concerto nr.2) written for Love Derwinger; and many other.

Also incidental music for theatre, including Independent people by Halldór Laxness in 1999 for the National theatre.

Sveinsson´s works have been widely performed both in Europe and overseas.


Atli Heimir Sveinsson was born in Reykjavík in 1938. Music was part of daily life in his family home, and he started taking lessons at the age of nine. He went on to study with Günther Raphael, Bernd Alois Zimmermann and Gottfried Michael König at the Cologne Music University, and graduated in composition and theory in 1963. Atli completed further studies with a number of well-known musical figures before moving back to Iceland. He has made significant contributions to Icelandic musical life in many fields. He taught composition at the Reykjavík College of Music and presented a popular music program on national radio. From 1972 to 1983 he was chairman of the Society of Icelandic Composers and sat on the boards of several arts associations.

Atli organised two major events in Reykjavík in the 1970s: the Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music in 1973 and Nordic Music Days three years later. These events were a turning point in Icelandic musical life, creating new links with many other countries. In 1980, Atli established the Myrka músíkdaga Festival of Music (Dark Music Days), which is held on the shortest day of the year and provides a platform for Icelandic composers both young and old.

Atli became the first Icelander to win the Nordic Council’s award for composition for his flute concerto written in 1976. He was elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1993. He has lectured in many universities in Scandinavia, Germany and the USA. In 2002-03 he was Visiting Professor at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He was appointed Composer in Residence for the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra in 2004.

Atli has written a wide range of works, including four symphonies, nine concertos, five operas and a large number of chamber pieces. His works have been performed all around the world. His ballet-oratorio Tíminn og vatnið (Time and Water), with settings of poems by Steinn Steinarr, was performed at the Reykjavík Arts Festival in 1997, and the musical Land míns föður has been staged 218 times. Atli has also written music for the theatre and composed many songs that have been become part of Icelandic musical culture.

Atli receives an honorary stipend from the Icelandic Parliament.