In 1931, he graduated from the Latvian State Conservatory in Riga. In 1944, he joined the conservatory's faculty, becoming a full professor in 1955. He is regarded as being the most distinguished Latvian symphonist. His love of melody is evident in each of his compositions, and forms the essence of his works. He often drew inspiration from the native songs of the Latgale district in eastern Latvia. His grasp of orchestral color and musical texture were highly regarded by his colleagues. The Latvian composer and music critic, Margers Zarins, described Ivanovs' symphonies as "like ancient Greek tragedies, filled with ecstasy and purification." He is mostly remembered for his twenty-one symphonies. Nevertheless, he composed in many other fields, including five symphonic poems, one concerto apiece for piano, violin and cello, three string quartets, and numerous vocal, piano and various chamber works.