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Alan Hovhaness

March 8, 1911 - June 21, 2000
born in Somerville, MA, composed during the Modern period
Alan Hovhaness, one of the most prolific composers of the twentieth century, left behind a legacy of hundreds of works, including more than 60 symphonies, numerous choral works, ballets, and operas, and all manner of chamber music. Hovhaness, born of Scottish and Armenian descent in 1911, took an early interest in composition, and by the age of 13 had composed two operas. After studies at the New England Conservatory with Frederick Converse, Hovhaness made a favorable impression with his first acknowledged symphony, Exile, when it was performed by the BBC Symphony in London in 1939. The works of Hovhaness' early period both reflect the influence of Renaissance music and utilize the harmonies of the late nineteenth century. During the 1930s the composer developed an interest in Indian music, which became one of the most pervasive influences upon his own works from that time on. In 1942 he received a scholarship to the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, where he attended composition seminars led by Aaron Copland (assisted by Leonard Bernstein). The experience, unfortunately, was less than positive, since both Copland and Bernstein were highly critical of Hovhaness' music. The ridicule he experienced led Hovhaness to leave Tanglewood early. Discouraged, he destroyed many of his early works. Serendipitously, though, the composer's return to Boston was followed by a meeting with the Greek painter and psychic Herman DiGiovanno, who convinced him to study the music of his Armenian ancestry. Further immersion in Armenian church music led Hovhaness to the works of Komitas Vartabed, a priest and composer who died in 1936 and whom Hovhaness described as the "Armenian Bartók." Hovhaness' discovery of Armenian music had a direct effect upon his own works, which became more rhythmically and contrapuntally active and began to reflect the improvisatory nature of Armenian church melodies.

During the 1940s Hovhaness furthered his study of the Armenian culture, playing organ at an Armenian church and learning the Armenian language, and took a further interest in the Eastern philosophies. The growing success of his music in the 1950s led to several important grants and commissions; a grant from the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1951 allowed him to move to New York. After composing Ardent Song (1954), a ballet score for Martha Graham, Hovhaness toured the Far East. Still shunned by the mainstream musical establishment of the time, he continued to receive recognition from without, including Guggenheim Fellowships in 1953, 1954, and 1958. A commission from the Houston Symphony, the Symphony No. 2 ("Mysterious Mountain"; 1955) provided Hovhaness his first popular success. The work was auspiciously premiered by Leopold Stokowski, and the redoubtable Fritz Reiner made a highly regarded recording of it with the Chicago Symphony.

After receiving a Fulbright Fellowship in 1959, Hovhaness again toured the East and was the first Western composer invited to participate in the music festival in Madras, India. He was also received warmly in Japan, where he made television appearances and conducted his music with the Tokyo Symphony. During a return to Asia in 1962 on a Rockefeller Grant, Hovhaness studied the ancient court music of Japan and Korea.

The aural result of the composer's immersion in Eastern culture is a musical language invested with a sense of mysticism and spirituality. Among his voluminous catalogue, Hovhaness' colorful orchestral works have maintained the greatest popularity among audiences; notable examples include the Symphony No. 17 ("Symphony for Metal Orchestra"; 1963); And God Created Great Whales (1970), which incorporates recordings of actual whale "songs," and the Symphony No. 50 ("Mount St. Helen's"; 1982). ~ Kristen Grimshaw, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Fred the Cat: Half a Century of Piano Music by Alan Hovhaness

Title: Dance Ghazal For Piano, Op. 362
Title: Lullaby (Slumber Song), For Piano, Op. 52/2
Title: Achtamar, For Piano, Op. 64
Title: Fantasy On An Ossetin Tune, For Piano, Op. 85
Title: Orbit 2, For Piano, Op. 102
Title: Mountain Dance No. 2, For Piano (revision Of Macedonian Mountain Dance No. 2), Op. 144b
Title: Macedonian Mountain Dances (2), For Piano, Op. 144
Title: Mt Ossipee, Sonata For Piano, Op. 299/2
Title: Fred The Cat, Sonata For Piano, Op. 301

14. Fred The Cat, Sonata For Piano, Op. 301: Purr Dance

15. Fred The Cat, Sonata For Piano, Op. 301: Fred The Cat And Distant Mountain

16. Fred The Cat, Sonata For Piano, Op. 301: Fred The Cat Flies To Heaven

Title: Prospect Hill, Sonata For Piano, Op. 346
Title: Mt Chocurua, Sonata For Piano, Op. 335
x

Track List: Hovhaness Collection, Vol. 2

Disc 1
Title: Symphony No.50 ("Mount St. Helens"), Op. 360
Title: Prelude And Quadruple Fugue For Orchestra (or Strings & Tympani), Op. 128
Title: String Quartet No.3, Op. 208/1
Title: And God Created Great Whales, For Orchestra & Taped Whale Sounds, Op. 229/1
Disc 2
Title: Symphony No.2 ("Mysterious Mountain"), Op. 132
Title: Symphony No.53 ("Star Dawn"), For Band, Op. 377
Title: Alleluia And Fugue For String Orchestra, Op. 40b
Title: String Quartet No.2, Op. 147
Title: Celestial Fantasy, For String Orchestra, Op. 44
Title: Meditation On Orpheus, For Orchestra, Op.155
x

Track List: Hovhaness: Symphony 15

Title: Concerto 7, For Orchestra, Op. 116

1. Concerto 7, For Orchestra, Op. 116: I. Allegretto

2. Concerto 7, For Orchestra, Op. 116: II. Allegro (Jhala-Scherzo)

3. Concerto 7, For Orchestra, Op. 116: III. Double Fugue

Title: Symphony No.15 ("Silver Pilgrimage"), Op. 199

4. Symphony No.15 ("Silver Pilgrimage"), Op. 199: I. Mount Ravanna

5. Symphony No.15 ("Silver Pilgrimage"), Op. 199: II. Mount Princess

6. Symphony No.15 ("Silver Pilgrimage"), Op. 199: III. River Of Meditation

7. Symphony No.15 ("Silver Pilgrimage"), Op. 199: IV. Heroic Gates Of Peace

Title: Magnificat For SATB Soloists, SATB Chorus & Orchestra, Op. 157

8. Magnificat For SATB Soloists, SATB Chorus & Orchestra, Op. 157: I. Celestial Fanfare

9. Magnificat For SATB Soloists, SATB Chorus & Orchestra, Op. 157: II. Magnificat

10. Magnificat For SATB Soloists, SATB Chorus & Orchestra, Op. 157: III. Et Exsultavit

11. Magnificat For SATB Soloists, SATB Chorus & Orchestra, Op. 157: IV. Quia Respexit

12. Magnificat For SATB Soloists, SATB Chorus & Orchestra, Op. 157: V. Omnes Generattiones

13. Magnificat For SATB Soloists, SATB Chorus & Orchestra, Op. 157: VI. Quia Fecit Mihi Magna

14. Magnificat For SATB Soloists, SATB Chorus & Orchestra, Op. 157: VII. Et Misericordia

15. Magnificat For SATB Soloists, SATB Chorus & Orchestra, Op. 157: VIII. Fecit Potentiam

16. Magnificat For SATB Soloists, SATB Chorus & Orchestra, Op. 157: IX. Esurientes Implevit Bonis

17. Magnificat For SATB Soloists, SATB Chorus & Orchestra, Op. 157: X. Suscepit Israel

18. Magnificat For SATB Soloists, SATB Chorus & Orchestra, Op. 157: XI. Sicut Locutus Est

19. Magnificat For SATB Soloists, SATB Chorus & Orchestra, Op. 157: XII. Part 12. Gloria Patri

Comments

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jwcaitlan
It's probably good to note that without Copland and Bernstein's constructive criticism we wouldn't have the Hovhaness corpus we cherish so much today.
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A true American musical genius who found his style in global cultures. A difficult task in the 1950s for any artist. His Mysterious Mountain is one of my all time favorite classical compositions .
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Ive been wanting to hear mysterious mountains by Hovhannes
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coachrivers
I had the privedge to sit next to Alan Hovaness at a concert in Switzerland in 1969. He was obviously listening to the performance, but at the same time he was scoring new music in his notebook. A truly humble man.
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Sometimes it take a boulder in the road to turn me onto a better path. Thank you Bernstein & Copeland—the Hovhaness who emerged from Tanglewood is a complex, tremendously rewarding composer.
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domingolg67
Prayer for St Gregory turned me into a instant Hovhaness fan. But its not on Pandora (shakes fist at computer)
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Regarding the infamous anecdote about Bernstein and Copland putting down Hovhaness at Tanglewood: Bernstein's musical comedy and film scores are tight and wonderful and imaginative, and not at all as pontificatin g and bombastic as his "serious" compositions or, for that matter, his over-the-top conducting - which I think is abysmal. Copland's work doesn't have a thousandth the depth and conviction of Hovhaness.
I despise comparisons, but always reading about this event sickens me.
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One of the most inventive American composers of the 20th Century -- under-rated, under-valued , under-apprec i a t e d , and Heaven only knows why. His spirituality permeates his work, I would suggest Symphony 50 first, and then just close your eyes and pick anything. He's constantly involving, and to my mind reminiscent of Rohrich's drawings --- expansive, mysterious, mystical, meditative, and always deeply moving.
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mr.seward
I first heard the St. Vartan Symphony in the early 1960's and the mystical beauty and strangeness of it and other Hovhaness works has remained with me ever since. I think he is a very under-apprec i a t e d composer, and the "Mysterious Mountain" will be in my mind and heart for ever.
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alyssaduckjo h n s o n
My first song I heard by him was 'And God Created Great Whales' in my music appreciation class. I have to say, I fell in love!
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rstein628
Somehow after listening to as much as I can with Alan Hovhaness' music and then "hearing " that Bernstein and Copeland criticised him makes me wonder where ( the source ) came from and wondering even more if indeed the criticism was musically motivated? In either case I will go with my ear and heart ( and the rest of me too ) and enjoy his wonderful compositions .
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Hovhaness is to music what St. Francis is to prayer, and it is in listening to Alan's unearthly and sublime chords that you may think you are in the divine presence. Of course, 'a prophet is without honor in his own country' and that hardly accounts for Copland(!!!) and Bernstein - both rebels in their own right -to criticize Hovhaness at Berkshire. A wonderful composer who lifts the human soul to heights barely reached by his contemporari e s , and whose music will be the foundation and precursor
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politicsmani n a c a n
My favorite. I knew him in New York in the '50s.
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evankeogh
A few years ago I heard Spirit of Trees, sonata for guitar and harp, on public radio and the rest is history. Don't know enough about classical music to compare him to the rest of the 20th century, but his music is beyond good enough for me.
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dr_timbabwae
Hovhaness is one of my favorie 20th century composers. My favorite pieces are the "Mt. St.Helen's Symphony" and "The Prayer of St. Gregory". I hope we can hear them soon at Pandora.

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