During the early 1930s he was a student at the Akademie der Tonkunst in Munich where Carl Orff was his teacher and Orff remained a powerful influence on his music. Returning to Switzerland in the mid-1930s, he devoted his life to composition. He wrote some works for the radio, starting with Die schwarze Spinne in 1936, before turning later to television opera. His most successful stage work was Romeo und Julia, premiered in Dresden in 1940 under Karl Böhm.
Sutermeister's penultimate stage work, Madame Bovary, first given in Zurich in 1967, is loosely based on Flaubert's novel. With many characters cut, it consists largely of monologues for Emma Bovary, who was superbly sung by Anneliese Rothenberger. For his final opera, he adapted Eugène Ionesco's play Exit the King (Le Roi se meurt). Premiered in 1985 at Bavarian State Opera, with only six characters, a tiny chorus and small orchestra, this work, in its modest way, is as effective as anything Sutermeister wrote.