Kees Cornelius Leendert van Baaren was born on October 22, 1906 in Enschede. He died in Oegstgeest on September 2, 1970. Being the son of a music dealer, Van Baaren played the piano, cello and harmonica already in his early years.
His early studies (1924–29) were in Berlin with Rudolph Breithaupt (piano) and Friedrich Koch (composition) at the Stern conservatory. In these days, Kees van Baaren played jazz and accompanied the Kabarett der Unmöglichen [Cabaret of the Impossible] to support himself. After returning to the Netherlands in 1929, he studied with Willem Pijper.
His great inspiration during his studies was the jazz pianist Fats Waller. The pianist – and Van Baaren student – Misha Mengelberg said: “Van Baaren played Waller's music pretty well himself, with much more interesting chords than Waller used, but without a trace of swing.”
In 1948 Van Baaren became director of the Conservatoire of the Amsterdam Muzieklyceum Society (later merged into the Conservatoire of Amsterdam). In 1953 he was appointed director of the Utrecht Conservatoire. In 1958 he became director of the Royal Conservatory of The Hague.
As a teacher and composer, he stimulated Dutch musical life and the generation of composers who were his students, among whom were Louis Andriessen, Theo Bruins, Reinbert de Leeuw, Misha Mengelberg, David Porcelijn, Peter Schat, Jan van Vlijmen, Jan Wisse and, surprisingly, Harry Bannink.
Van Baaren composed mainly orchestral and chamber music. One of his first compositions was '’ (1933); he destroyed all previous works. From 1934 onward, he often used the same germ cell technique of William Piper and dodecaphonic method of Arnold Schoenberg together. He himself says: "For me there is no difference between the germ and the series.” When he told Piper, he said: "You're absolutely right, but I can not keep an eye on twelve at the same time.” Kees van Baaren was the first important Dutch composer to use twelve-tone technique.
While composing some works in an accessible, tonal style, in other pieces he developed toward a serial technique, which emerged fully with the ‘Septet’ for five winds, violin, and double bass (1952) (Ryker 2001). Based on this work, Van Baaren is praised as “the, technically speaking, most modern composer of the Netherlands”. That this music “at first hearing, sounded more to Piper than Schoenberg says a lot about the influence of his teacher" (Elmer Schönberger: Serial Expressionism in the Netherlands, pro and con). Later in the 50s, he repeats this dodecaphonic writing in a.o. ’Musical Self Portrait’ and ‘Sinfonia’ (1957) for orchestra.
With his work ‘Variazoni per Orchestra’ he establishes his name as serialistisch composer. “Due to this work and later compositions Van Baaren is seen as the father of the Dutch serialism.” (Leo Samama, 2006)
‘Musica per Orchestra’ (1966) is the last piece for large ensemble and ‘Musica per Campane' - the second version - is his last completed work; a violin concerto for soloist Theo Olof remains unfinished.
Baaren received the Sweelinck Prize for his entire oeuvre in 1969.