Latvian-Canadian composer Ķeniņš dies at age 88

Tālivaldis Ķeniņš, described as “one of Canada’s pioneering composers,” has died at the age of 88. For many years he taught composition at the University of Toronto, founded the Latvian Concert Association of Toronto and wrote many works of classical music, the Canadian Music Centre said in a Jan. 22 press release.

Ķeniņš was born in 1919 in Liepāja, Latvia. His father, Atis, was a lawyer, educator, diplomat, politician, minister of education and justice, a poet and a translator. His mother, Anna, was a writer and journalist.

At the age of 5, Ķeniņš began piano lessons. When he was 8, the Canadian Music Centre said, the boy wrote his first composition. Ķeniņš received his higher education in 1939 in France and then began to study composition under Jāzeps Vītols at the Latvian Conservatory of Music. However, he was forced to flee Latvia in 1944.

Ķeniņš received further education at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Paris, graduating in 1950 with a degree in composition and several music prizes under his belt.

The composer married Valda Dreimane and the couple moved to Canada in 1951. Ķeniņš became organist and music director at St. Andrew’s Latvian Lutheran Church in Toronto. In 1952, he joined the music faculty at the University of Toronto. Among his students, the Canadian Music Centre noted, were the Latvian-Canadian composer Imants Ramiņš and pianist Artūrs Ozoliņš.

In 1959, Ķeniņš founded the Latvian Concert Association of Toronto. He also was an active member of the Canadian League of Composers, serving from 1973-1974 as its president.

During his career, Ķeniņš composed eight symphonies, 12 concertos, three cantatas, an oratorio and a number of chamber music, choral and educational works. His “First Symphony” was completed in 1959, while “Sinfonia concertata (Eighth Symphony)” was completed in 1986 and saw its debut that year during the Latvian Song Festival in Canada.

According to The New Grove Dictionary, the composer’s work is noted for forms that “are basically traditional (sonata, quartet, suite, divertimento) and the language is dominated by lyrical melody, contrapuntal textures, logical formal structures and a fondness for concertante treatments in which there is an imaginative interplay of instrumental colours. Ostinato patterns abound in a rhythmic style which is supple and, particularly in fast movements, often animated and witty.”

Among many honors bestowed on Ķeniņš is the Order of Three Stars, Latvia’s highest civilian honor. He was an honorary professor at the Latvian Academy of Music. The composer was the subject of a 1994 Latvian-language biography written by musicologist Ingrīda Zemzare, Tālivaldis Ķeniņš: Starp divām pasaulēm. Canadian musicologist Paul Rapoport is working on an English-language biography, the Canadian Music Centre reported.

Funeral service for Ķeniņš was Jan. 25 at St. Andrew’s Latvian Lutheran Church in Toronto.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

2 thoughts on “Latvian-Canadian composer Ķeniņš dies at age 88

  1. Talivaldis Kenins was not only the most gifted Latvian-born composer (not minimizing in any way the talent of Vasks, Ivanovs, Skulte, Barisons or others) or the most profound Canadian composer. He was one of the most eloquent composers anywhere. His violin pieces are superb and I spent hours working and reflecting on the Chaconne or Violin Sonata No. 2. His Symphonies, notably Nos. 4 and 6, belong to the strongest of our time. It is crucial that both Canadian and Latvian music-lovers lobby major record companies (BIS, CPO, Naxos) into recording his output as I have tried to do repeatedly for years. This is long overdue.

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