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Imants Kalniņš

(26.05.1941 )

"Nothing in this world sounds like a person’s soul, in which all dimensions can be found. This is given to everyone from birth."

Imants Kalniņš


Imants Kalniņš was born in Riga on 26 May, 1941. In 1956 he enters the choral conducting study program at the Jāzeps Mediņš School of Music, but in his second year transfers to the music theory department, where he particularly values lessons taught by composer Jānis Līcītis. In 1960 he begins studies in composition with professor Ādolfs Skulte at the Latvian Conservatory of Music (now Latvian Music Academy). Following the recommendation of his professor, Imants Kalniņš completes the five-year study program in four years and in 1964 graduates from the Conservatory with excellence, as well launching his creative portfolio with his First Symphony.

During his student years Kalniņš also composed the Concerto for Cello, Piano Sonata, as well as his first theatre music. During this same period (1961–1964) Imants Kalniņš is pianist for The Riga Pantomime, led by Roberts Ligers. This is also the time that the composer gained his first creative influences from imported rock-n-roll, particularly from The Beatles recordings.

In 1966 Imants Kalniņš becomes a member of the Latvian Composers Union. After completing his studies Imants Kalniņš moves to the city of Liepāja and teaches at the Emilis Melngailis School of Music until September of 1967. He subsequently works at the Liepāja Theatre until 1974. In 1969 Imants Kalniņš founds the rock-n-roll group 2xBBM, whose repertoire includes songs by The Beatles, Latvian folk song arrangements and original works. After a concert in the city of Ogre in 1970 the group was banned from performing.

Many well-known rock songs, as well as the rock opera Hey, You There (according to some sources – the first rock opera in the history of the USSR) were composed in Liepāja during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. After this period in Liepāja comes one year in Rīga, then in 1975 Imants Kalniņš moves to rural Vecpiebalga, and in his country home Vecpaulēni he composes the operas I Play, I Dance and Iphigenia in Aulis, the oratorio Morning Hours and other notable works.

In 1976, heeding the suggestion of ensemble Menuets leader Jānis Blūms, the first one-day festival of Imants Kalniņš music, Imantdiena, is held. It becomes a tradition, yet already in 1982 it is banned by the officials. In 1995 the Imantdienas phenomenon is renewed and the festival tradition resumed. In the late 1970’s Imants Kalniņš returns to Riga. In 1985 the group Turaidas Roze is formed. That same year the Soviet regime acknowledges the work of Imants Kalniņš, conferring upon him the honorary title of Latvian SSR People’s Performing Artist. In December of 1986 he becomes Chairman of the Board for the Latvian SSR Music Society.

At one time he had declared that he would not place his neck in the noose of politics, nevertheless, in 1988 Imants Kalniņš joins LNNK, the Latvian Nationalist Independence Movement. In autumn 1988, speaking in the First Congress of the Latvian Peoples Front, he expressed a distinctly patriotic stance. During the Emergency session of congress called by LNNK in 1989 he insisted that the forced establishment of a Latvian SSR be acknowledged as illegitimate. In 1990 he is elected representative to the Latvian SSR Supreme Soviet. In mid 1990 he joins the political party Fatherland and Freedom, and has been a Parliament member during the fifth, seventh and ninth sessions of Saeima.

For the premier performance of the original version of his Fourth Symphony and song cycle of poems by Ainars Mielavs Of Things That Never Do Pass he has received the Latvian Great Music Award in 1997. He received the highest national award, the Three Stars Order of Honour, third category (1998) and Copyrights’ Infinity Award (2014).

The music of Imants Kalniņš is absolutely individual. In both classical and non-academic genres the composer’s signature style is equally recognizable – as brilliant in symphonic as in pop music. Ostinati figures and detailed ornaments of the melodies or principal themes abound, there is no lack of characteristic harmonic progressions and cadences. While works from the early period show an expressionistic character, his later works are characterized by crystal clear texture and classical thinking. He feels quite comfortable in extended works, large forms: I enjoy a longer conversation with the listener. The music of Imants Kalniņš has developed into a powerful influence on his colleagues, often there is cause for speaking about epigones of Kalniņš. However, it is not in the sense of plagiaristic epigonism, but rather the mark of a powerful musical personality on his peers and their music.

Orests Silabriedis

Mārīte Dombrovska © LMIC, 2007 Photo - Jānis Deinats