When Carl Johann Sonning, noted Danish writer and editor died in 1937, he left behind a will that created and endowed the Sonning Foundation. Formally established in 1949, this foundation awards the Sonning Prize to a man or a woman who has made outstanding contributions to the advancement of European civilization. Thus, by the nature of its charter, this prize is more all-encompassing of culture and civilization. The Sonning Foundation also funds non-profit cultural activities in support of the restoration and reconstruction of historical buildings, including those used in the service of music.
Since 1971, the Sonning Prize has been awarded every two years, usually on April 19, Mr. Sonning's birthday. Today, it carries a monetary award equivalent to DKK500,000 (about US$75,000 at current rates). To find the person who has greatly advanced the cause of European civilization is a tall order indeed. As such mandates go, the search is conducted in what is perhaps the most orderly and least contentious fashion - by commitee. In this case, the Sonning Commitee, established by the Senate of the University of Copenhagen, each year invites European universities to submit names of prize candidates and from this pool of names, the winner is then selected.