Maj Sønstevold was born in Solefteå in Sweden in 1917. She studied piano in Stockholm and jazz, improvisation and composition with Billy Mayerl in London. During the war she married the Norwegian composer Gunnar Sønstevold and in 1945 they settled down in Norway. Since then she has worked there as a composer and a teacher. In a very mature age she went to Vienna, together with her husband and two children, - the whole family went to study at the Music Academy. Her teachers were Hanns Jelinek and Karl Schiske. In 1966 she received her diploma in composition and she also graduated from the Akademisches Hauptseminar.
Maj Sønstevold is an unusually versatile composer, and she is well known for her thorough knowledge of different styles of composition. Her list of works includes so to say all styles from the Antique till our century's forms like jazz, light music, serialism and avant garde. One reason for this versatility might be her engagement in the fields of theatre, film, radio and television, - she has composed music for more than 50 different dramatic productions (11 of these in collaboration with her husband), where the different styles have been related to the plot.
Her list of works also includes orchestral works, chamber music, songs, popular songs, works for choir and solo instruments (espescially piano and harp). Even in these singular pieces she varies her style of composition. Here you can find everything from light orchestral music till avant garde. Among her orchestral works one could mention Den gamle majors forunderlige drømme (The Strange Dreams Of The Old Major), Summerdays by the Sea and Festival Ouverture. One of her most beautiful pieces of chamber music is Neun Haiku for alto voice, flute and harp, - composed in a strict twelvetone style. A piano piece that reveals her interest for jazz is 11 Polytonal Blues.
Maj Sønstevold's work as a teacher has been of great importance. During the years 1971 - 1985 she was engaged at the Music Department of the Oslo University teaching harmony, instrumentation, counterpoint, score reading, jazz, incidental music and repertory. During the same period she also taught program engineers and technichians in the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. In 1974 she started, together with her husband, The Maj and Gunnar Sønstevold Music Institute in Rakkestad in Eastern Norway, this school is now taken over by local authorities.
Maj Sønstevold died in 1996.