Talivaldis Kenins | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Talivaldis Kenins

Talivaldis Kenins. Composer, teacher, pianist, organist, b Liepaja, Latvia, 23 Apr 1919, naturalized Canadian 1956, d Toronto 20 Jan 2008; B LITT (Champollion) 1939, premier prix (Paris Conservatory) 1950.

Kenins, Talivaldis

Talivaldis Kenins. Composer, teacher, pianist, organist, b Liepaja, Latvia, 23 Apr 1919, naturalized Canadian 1956, d Toronto 20 Jan 2008; B LITT (Champollion) 1939, premier prix (Paris Conservatory) 1950. Kenins' father was a Latvian diplomat, poet, and translator of Baudelaire and Verlaine, his mother a writer. Kenins began playing piano at five and composing at seven, continuing piano studies in France while preparing at the Lycée Champollion in Grenoble for a diplomatic career. He studied piano and composition 1940-4 at the State Conservatory at Riga with Joseph Wihtol and, forced from Latvia by the Soviet occupation following World War II, continued 1945-51 at the Paris Conservatory, where his teachers were Simone Plé-Caussade (counterpoint), Olivier Messiaen (analysis and aesthetics), and Tony Aubin (composition). Kenins' Sonata for cello and piano was performed publicly (for his premier prix) at the Salle Gaveau in 1950, and his Septet (1949) was conducted by Hermann Scherchen at the Darmstadt Ferienkurse für neue Musik that same year.

Kenins emigrated to Canada in 1951 to assume duties as organist-choirmaster for the Latvian congregation of St Andrew's Lutheran Church in Toronto. He also founded the St Andrew's Latvian Choir (one of the important choirs of its type in North America) and conducted it until 1958. He became the founder and president of the Latvian Concert Association of Toronto in 1959.

Kenins began teaching at the University of Toronto in 1952 and was co-ordinator of the composition division 1977-9. He was named professor emeritus on his retirement in 1984. Walter Kemp, Edward Laufer, Bruce Mather, Ben McPeek, and Arthur Ozolins were among his pupils. Owing largely to the communicative disposition of his musical language and the consistency of his craft, Kenins became one of Canada's most frequently commissioned composers.


In the late 1940s and 1950s, Talivaldis Kenins' style strove to reconcile the romanticism of his nature and the neoclassicism of a French training. Chromatic excursions, pitting dissonance against consonance, were subordinated to tonal logic. Agitated passages and the toccata-like elements of his fast movements were severely controlled. The concertante style, dominant in his musical speech, was stabilized by counterpoint. The plethora of notes and the tendency to over-emphasis gave way in the 1960s to greater transparency and leaner outlines. His counterpoint recalled his academic training, but his fugues gradually became more sophisticated. The choral passage 'Still the spirit of the sorceress' in Lagalaî shows his later success in fugal integration within the general weave of a work. In his compositions of the 1970s, Kenins broke consciously with the conservative image he had defended so assiduously. He took an increasing interest in the potential of the 'batterie'; the Symphony No. 4 is a concertante for percussion and ensemble. Linear counterpoint is replaced by cluster patterns and a greater exploitation of colour and aleatoric opportunities.

Interest in percussion was expanded in the sixth symphony, Sinfonia Ad Fugam, a confident synthesis of linear, concertante and aleatoric treatment of material drawn from the subjects of the C-sharp minor fugue from Book One of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Quotation is a crucial element in Beatae Voces Tenebrae, in which Bach, Beethoven, Liszt, and Fauré are summoned to meditate on death and eternity. Borrowing was not returned to after these works, except for a re-appearance of the Bach motif at the vocal movements in the Symphony No. 7, at once a matter of more personal involvement due to the texts chosen from his father's poetry, and also of even more assured handling of contrapuntal forms, in this case the passacaglia. Unlike the Latvian composers born before World War I who fled in the 1940s, Kenins did not pursue the Romanticist-nationalist genre. Rather, a creative life formed within the mainstream and influenced by French sensibilities evolved to produce such chamber pieces as the Second Piano Quartet and the Concerto for 14 Instruments, masterful distillations of his craft which validate his international esteem.

In 1989 RCI, as part of its Anthology of Canadian Music series, released a four-CD set devoted to Kenins' music (4-ACM 33). Included on the set was a conversation between Kenins and Montreal critic Eric McLean. A further CD, Music of Talivaldis Kenins, was issued by Centrediscs in 1997 (CMCCD-5997); CBC Records featured his music on Ovations, Vol. 3 (PSCD 2028-5). Kenins was the subject of a film documentary prepared in 1990 by Film Studio 'Riga' and the Latvian Radio and Television services, and he was appointed an honorary professor by the Music Academy of Latvia. A festival of his music was held in Riga in 1994.

Kenins was a member (and president 1973-4) of the Canadian League of Composers, and an associate of the Canadian Music Centre.

Selected Compositions

Piano Concerto. 1946. Pf, medium orch. Ms

Scherzo Concertante. 1953. Ms

7 Symphonies. (1959-80). Ms. (No. 4) CBC SM-293/4-ACM 33 (CD) (CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra)

Folk Dance and Fugue No 1. 1964. Ms. Ca 1965. Album of the Second Latvian West Coast Song Festival TB-2505 (Portland SO)

Concerto. 1965. Vn, violoncello, string orch. Ms

Nocturne and Dance. 1969. Str orch. B&H

Chants of Glory and Mercy; Gloria (liturgical, various texts). 1970. SATB, soli, orch. Ms

Fantaisies concertantes. 1971. Pf, orch. Ms

Concerto. 1974. Vn, orch. Ms. CBC SM-293/4-ACM 33 (CD) (Staryk)

Naačnaača. 1975. Full orch. Ms

Sinfonietta. 1976. Ms. Ca 1977. World Records WRC-249 (North Toronto Collegiate O, D. Ford conductor)/Latvian Hertiage Foundation CRSV-2656 (Boston Pops)

Beatae voces tenebrae. 1977. Ms. 1977. RCI 477/4-ACM 33 (CD) (B. Brott)

Sinfonia ad fugam. 1978. Orch. Ms

Concerto da Camera No 1. 1981. Pf, fl, clarinet, string orch. Ms. CSPS 3-1913 (Latvian Festival Ensemble, Strombergs conductor)

Partita for Strings on Lutheran Chorales. 1983. Ms. SMCD 5131, 1993

Aria per corde. 1984. Str orch. Ms

Canzona-Sonate. 1986. Va, string orch. Ms

Folk Dance and Fugue No 2. 1986. Ms

Songs to the Almighty. 1986. Mezzo (bar), orch (organ). Ms

Double Concerto. 1987. Vn, piano, orch. Ms

Concerto for Piano, String orchestra and Percussion. 1990. Ms

Honour and Freedom. 1991. Orch. Ms.


'My most successful work: Symphony No. 1 for Chamber Orchestra,' Canadian Composer, 31, Jul-Aug 1968

- and Ridout, Godfrey, eds. Celebration (Toronto 1984)


Septet. 1949. Cl, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, violoncello, bass. Ms. CBC SM-135/4-ACM 33 (CD) (Barnes conductor)

Sonata. 1950. Vc, piano. Ms. Ca 1968. Christophorus-Schallplatte SCGLV-75980 (Teichmanis violoncello, Barth piano)

Sonata 1955. Vn, piano. Ms. Masters of the Bow MBS-2002 (Bress)/ca 1977 Kaibala Stereo 60F03 (Lielmane violin, Balter piano)

Suite Concertante. 1955. Vc, piano. Ms. Ca 1957. Latvian Music G-804-6098 (Naruns violoncello, Dambrans piano)/1987. RCI 641/4-ACM 33 (CD) (Hoebig violoncello, Tunis piano)

Diversions on a Gypsy Song. 1958. Vc, piano. Ms. Ca 1962. Latrec 2783 (Treimanis violoncello, Naruns piano)

Quartet. 1958. Pf, violin, viola, violoncello. Ms. RCI 471/4-ACM 33 (CD) (Quartet Canada)

Divertimento. 1960. Cl (violin), piano. B&H 1970 (violin, piano). Dom S-69004/4-ACM 33 (CD) (Galper clarinet)

Concertante 1966. Fl, piano. B&H 1972. 2-Dom S-69006 (Aitken fl)

Concerto-Fantasy. 1976. Org, percussion. Ms

Ancient Song for Solo Harp. 1976. Ms

Chaconne on a Latvian folk theme. 1978. Vn. Ms. Genesee GRN-4252 (Lielmane)

Sextet. 1978. Bn, string. Ms

Second Sonata. 1979. Vn, piano. Ms

Festival Fanfares. 1981. Brass ensemble. Ms. CSPS 1-1914 (Latvian Brass Ens)

Quintet. 1983. Pf, woodwind. Ms. 1986. RCI 636 (cass)/4-ACM 33 (CD) (Aide)

Concerto Barocco. 1985. 2 violin. Ms

Suite en Concert. 1987. 2 guitar, string quartet. Ms

Trio. 1989. Vn, viola, violoncello. Ms

Die Zauberklarinette. 1991. Cl. Ms

Nonet for oboe, clarinet, French horn, two violins, viola, cello, double bass and piano (1985-93)

Quintet for piano and strings. 1994


Concertino for Two Pianos Alone. 1956. Ms. Ca 1960. Latvian Heritage Foundation CSRV-2258 (The Gutbergs)

Sonata No 1. 1961. Pf. Kalnajs/FH 1964. Ca 1967. Cor 850C-3763 (Dambrans)/ca 1964 Daina T-54067 (Leinvebers)/1969. RCI 366 (Morgen)/1974. CBC SM-301/4-ACM 33 (CD) (Ozolins)

Three Fugues. 1971. Acc (organ). Wat 1973

Suite in D. 1967. Org. Ms. Hilversum 84106/RCI 591/4-ACM 33 (CD) (Jos van der Kooy)/('Toccata') 1973. Venus 1009 (Rundans)

Sinfonia Notturna. 1978. Org. Ms. 1984. Centrediscs CMC-1784/4-ACM 33 (CD) (Wedd)

Sonata No 3. 1985. Pf. Ms. 4-ACM 33 (CD) (Chou)

Sonata. 1988. 2 piano. Ms

Scherzo-Fanatsy. 1989. Org. Ms

7 short pieces for piano: Horse Rider; Tenderness; Little March; Diversities (No. 9 and 12); The Juggler; The Sad Clown (1956-69). Various published. All recorded on Dom S-69002 (Mould)

3 short pieces for piano: Little Romance (GVT 1956); Dance (FH 1961); Dreaming (FH 1966). All recorded ca 1974 on Latrec 11074 (Naruns)

Other works for piano including Bagatelle (FH 1975), Bearlude for Alex (FH 1979)


To a Soldier, cantata (I. Viksna). 1953. Mezzo, bar, SATB, organ. Kalnajs 1953. Ca 1955. Daina 1008-A (The Shield of Songs)

'Bonhomme! Bonhomme!' (traditional). Arr 1962. SATB. FH 1964. CBC SM-19/4-ACM 33 (CD) (Festival Singers)

'Ojibway Song'. 1964. SATB. FH 1964

'Lakstîgala kroni pina,' folksong (Latvian). 1966. SSAA, kokles. Ms. Ca 1966. Monitor MFS-495 (Latvian Ens of New York)

3 songs: 'The Carrion Crow,' 'Land of the Silver Birch,' 'The Maiden's Lament' (arr 1967). GVT 1967. Ca 1968. Arc 260 (Hart House Glee Club)

Piae Cantiones Novae, song cycle. 1969. SATB. Wat 1969

Lagalaî 'Legend of the Stone,' chamber drama (U. Fogels). 1970. SATB, fl, horn, percussion. Ms

Cantata Baltica (A. Viirlaid, transl T. Ene Moks). 1974. Bass (alto), SATB, 2 trumpet, timp, organ. Ms

Alleluia. 1981. SATB. Ms

Many other works for choir, a large number with Latvian texts, some recorded on the Sutton, Venus, Daina and Harmonia labels; some recorded at Latvian Song Festivals in Canada and the USA; such recordings distributed by the Latvian Song Festival Associations of Canada and the USA


Many works for voice, most with Latvian texts. Several have been recorded for labels such as DC Recordings (New York), DVRV Recordings (Germany), Imantica Productions (Sweden), KRC Sound Recordings (Detroit), and Latvian Music (Kalamazoo, Mich and Stockholm). Vocal works recorded include Ai zalaja lidacina; Bernes; Burvibas vieta; Ej saulite driz pie Dieva; Ganinš gana celmala; Kas cilveks ir bez tevijas; Miestinš; Nem mani lidz; Pieci gadi kalpinš biju; Vecais burinieks; Virpulu jura; Glasts.

Further Reading