Alan Hovhaness ("//; March 8, 1911 – June 21, 2000) was an "Armenian-"American "composer. He was one of the most prolific 20th-century composers, with his official catalog comprising 67 numbered symphonies (surviving manuscripts indicate over 70) and 434 opus numbers. The true tally is well over 500 surviving works since many opus numbers comprise two or more distinct works.
"The Boston Globe "music critic Richard Buell wrote: "Although he has been stereotyped as a self-consciously Armenian composer (rather as "Ernest Bloch is seen as a Jewish composer), his output assimilates the music of many cultures. What may be most American about all of it is the way it turns its materials into a kind of exoticism. The atmosphere is hushed, reverential, mystical, nostalgic."
He was born as Alan Vaness Chakmakjian ("Armenian: Ալան Հարությունի Չաքմաքչյան) in "Somerville, Massachusetts, to "Haroutioun Hovanes Chakmakjian (an "Armenian chemistry professor at "Tufts College who had been born in "Adana, "Turkey) and Madeleine Scott (an American of Scottish descent who had graduated from "Wellesley College). When he was five, his family moved from Somerville to "Arlington, Massachusetts. A Hovhaness family neighbor said his mother had insisted on moving from Somerville because of discrimination against Armenians there. After her death (on October 3, 1930), he began to use the surname "Hovaness" in honor of his paternal grandfather,["citation needed] and changed it to "Hovhaness" around 1944. He stated the name change from the original Chakmakjian reflected the desire to simplify his name because "nobody ever pronounced it right". However, Hovhaness' daughter Jean Nandi has written in her book Unconventional Wisdom, "My father's name at the time of my birth was 'Hovaness', pronounced with accent on the first syllable. His original name was 'Chakmakjian', but in the 1930s he wanted to get rid of the Armenian connection and so changed his name to an Americanized version of his middle name. Some years later, deciding to re-establish his Armenian ties, he changed the spelling to 'Hovhaness', accent on the second syllable; this was the name by which he later became quite famous."["page needed]
Hovhaness was interested in music from a very early age, writing his first composition, a cantata in the early Italian style, at the age of four after being inspired by hearing a song of "Franz Schubert. His family was concerned for his late-night hours spent composing and possibly for his financial future as an artist. He decided for a short time to pursue astronomy, another of his early loves. The fascination of astronomy remained with him through his entire life and composing career, with many works titled after various planets and stars.
Hovhaness's parents soon supported their son's precocious composing, and set up his first piano lessons with a neighborhood teacher. Hovhaness continued his piano studies with Adelaide Proctor and then "Heinrich Gebhard. By age 14 he decided to devote himself to composition. Among his early musical experiences were Baptist hymns and recordings of "Gomidas Vartabed, an eminent Armenian composer. He composed two operas during his teenage years which were performed at Arlington High School, and composer "Roger Sessions took an interest in his music during this time. Following his graduation from high school in 1929, he studied with "Leo Rich Lewis at Tufts and then under "Frederick Converse at the "New England Conservatory of Music. In 1932, he won the Conservatory's Samuel Endicott prize for composition with his Sunset Symphony (elsewhere entitled Sunset Saga).
In July 1934, Hovhaness traveled with his first wife, Martha Mott Davis, to "Finland to meet "Jean Sibelius, whose music he had greatly admired since childhood. The two continued to correspond for the next twenty years. In 1935, Hovhaness named his daughter and only child from his first marriage Jean Christina Hovhaness after Jean Christian Sibelius, her "godfather and Hovhaness's friend for three decades.
In 1936, Hovhaness attended a performance in Boston by the Indian dance troupe of "Uday Shankar (with orchestra led by Vishnudas Shirali), which inspired his lifelong interest in the "music of India. During the 1930s (until 1939), he worked in "Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Federal Music Project.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Hovhaness famously destroyed many of his early works. He later claimed that he had burned at least 1000 different pieces, a process that took at least two weeks; elsewhere he claimed to have destroyed around 500 scores totaling as many as a thousand pages. In an interview with Richard Howard, he stated that the decision was based primarily on "Sessions' criticism of his works of that period, and that he wanted to make a new start in composition.
Hovhaness became interested in Armenian culture and music in 1940 as "organist for the St. James "Armenian Apostolic Church in "Watertown, Massachusetts, remaining in this position for about ten years. In 1942, he won a scholarship at "Tanglewood to study in Czech composer "Bohuslav Martinů's "master class. During a seminar in composition, while a recording of Hovhaness's first symphony was being played, "Aaron Copland talked loudly in Spanish to Latin-American composers in the room; and at the end of the recording "Leonard Bernstein went to the piano, played a melodic minor scale and rebuked the work as "cheap ghetto music." Apparently angered and distraught by this experience, he left Tanglewood early, abandoning his scholarship and again destroying a number of his works in the aftermath of that major disappointment.
The next year he devoted himself to Armenian subject matter["citation needed], in particular using "modes distinctive to Armenian music, and continued in this vein for several years, achieving some renown and the support of other musicians, including radical experimentalist composer "John Cage and choreographer "Martha Graham, all the while continuing as church organist.
Beginning in the mid-1940s, Hovhaness and two artist friends, "Hyman Bloom and "Hermon di Giovanno, met frequently to discuss spiritual and musical matters. All three had a strong interest in "Indian classical music, and brought many well known Indian musicians to Boston to perform. During this period, Hovhaness learned to play the "sitar, studying with amateur Indian musicians living in the Boston area. Around 1942, Bloom introduced Hovhaness to "Yenovk Der Hagopian, a fine singer of Armenian and Kurdish troubadour songs, whose singing inspired Hovhaness.
In one of several applications for a Guggenheim fellowship (1940), Hovhaness presented his credo at the time of application:
"Lou Harrison reviewed a 1945 concert of Hovhaness' music which included his 1944 concerto for piano and strings, entitled Lousadzak:
However, as before, there were also critics:
"Lousadzak was Hovhaness's first work to make use of an innovative technique he called "spirit murmur", an early example of "aleatoric music inspired by a vision of Hermon di Giovanno. The technique, essentially similar to the 1960s ad libitum aleatory of "Lutoslawski, involves instruments repeating phrases in uncoordinated fashion, producing a complex "cloud" or "carpet" of sounds..
In the mid-1940s, Hovhaness' stature in New York was helped considerably by members of the immigrant Armenian community who sponsored several high-profile concerts of his music. This organization, the Friends of Armenian Music Committee, was led by Hovhaness's friends Dr. Elizabeth A. Gregory, the "Armenian American piano/violin duo "Maro Ajemian and "Anahid Ajemian, and later Anahid's husband, pioneering record producer and subsequent Columbia Records executive "George Avakian. Their help led directly to many recordings of Hovhaness' music appearing in the 1950s on MGM and Mercury records, placing him firmly on the American musical landscape.
In 1951 Hovhaness moved to "New York City, where he became a full-time composer. Also that year (starting on August 1), he worked for the "Voice of America, first as a script writer for the Armenian section, then as director of music, composer and musical consultant for the Near East and Transcaucasian sections. He eventually lost this job (along with much of the other staff) when "Dwight D. Eisenhower succeeded "Harry S. Truman as U.S. president in 1953. From this time on, he branched out from Armenian music, adopting styles and material from a wide variety of sources. As documented in "1953 and the "1954, he received "Guggenheim Fellowships in composition. He wrote the score for the "Broadway play "The Flowering Peach by "Clifford Odets in 1954, a ballet for Martha Graham (Ardent Song, also in 1954), and two scores for "NBC documentaries on India and "Southeast Asia (1955 and 1957). Also during the 1950s, he composed for productions at "The Living Theatre.
His biggest breakthrough till then came in 1955, when his "Symphony No. 2, Mysterious Mountain, was premiered by "Leopold Stokowski in his debut with the "Houston Symphony, although the idea that Mysterious Mountain was commissioned for that orchestra is a common misconception.["citation needed] That same year, "MGM Records released recordings of a number of his works. Between 1956 and 1958, at the urging of "Howard Hanson, an admirer of his music, he taught summer sessions at the "Eastman School of Music long presided over by Hanson.
From 1959 through 1963 Hovhaness conducted a series of research trips to India, Hawaii, Japan and South Korea, investigating the ancient traditional musics of these nations and eventually integrating elements of these into his own compositions. His study of "Carnatic music in "Madras, India (1959–60), during which he collected over 300 "ragas, was sponsored by a "Fulbright fellowship. While in Madras, he learned to play the "veena and composed a work for Carnatic orchestra entitled Nagooran, inspired by a visit to the "dargah at "Nagore, which was performed by the South Indian Orchestra of "All India Radio Madras and broadcast on All-India Radio on February 3, 1960. He compiled a large amount of material on Carnatic ragas in preparation for a book on the subject, but never completed it.
He then studied Japanese "gagaku music (learning the wind instruments "hichiriki, "shō, and "ryūteki) in the spring of 1962 with Masatoshi Shamoto in Hawaii, and a "Rockefeller Foundation grant allowed him further gagaku studies with Masataro Togi in Japan (1962–63). Also while in Japan, he studied and played the "nagauta ("kabuki) "shamisen and the "jōruri ("bunraku) shamisen. In recognition of the musical styles he studied in Japan, he wrote "Fantasy on Japanese Woodprints, Op. 211 (1965), a concerto for "xylophone and orchestra.
In 1963 he composed his second ballet score for Martha Graham, entitled Circe.
He and his then wife then set up a record label devoted to the release of his own works, Poseidon Society. Its first release was in 1963, with around 15 discs following over the next decade. Following their divorce, the rights to this catalog were acquired by "Crystal Records.
In 1965, as part of a U.S. government-sponsored delegation, he visited Russia as well as Soviet-controlled "Georgia and "Armenia, the only time he visited his paternal ancestral homeland. While there, he donated his handwritten manuscripts of harmonized Armenian liturgical music to the "Yeghishe Charents State Museum of Arts and Literature in "Yerevan.
In the mid-1960s he spent several summers touring Europe, living and working much of the time in Switzerland.
Hovhaness stated in a 1971 interview in Ararat magazine:
We are in a very dangerous period. We are in danger of destroying ourselves, and I have a great fear about this ... The older generation is ruling ruthlessly. I feel that this is a terrible threat to our civilization. It's the greed of huge companies and huge organizations which control life in a kind of a brutal way ... It's gotten worse and worse, somehow, because physical science has given us more and more terrible deadly weapons, and the human spirit has been destroyed in so many cases, so what's the use of having the most powerful country in the world if we have killed the soul. It's of no use.
Hovhaness was inducted into the "National Institute of Arts and Letters (1951), and received honorary "D.Mus. degrees from the "University of Rochester (1958), "Bates College (1959) and the "Boston Conservatory (1987). He moved to "Seattle in the early 1970s, where he lived for the rest of his life. In 1973, he composed his third and final ballet score for Martha Graham: Myth of a Voyage, and over the next twenty years (between 1973 and 1992) he produced no fewer than 37 new symphonies.
Continuing his interest in composing for Asian instruments, in 1981, at the request of Lou Harrison, he composed two works for Indonesian "gamelan orchestra which were premiered by the gamelan at "Lewis & Clark College, under the direction of "Vincent McDermott.
Hovhaness is survived by his sixth wife, the "coloratura soprano Hinako Fujihara Hovhaness, who administers the Hovhaness-Fujihara music publishing company,  as well as a daughter, "harpsichordist Jean Nandi.
Significant archives of Hovhaness materials, comprising scores, sound recordings, photographs and correspondence are located at several academic centers, including "Harvard University, "University of Washington, the "Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., the Armenian Cultural Foundation in "Arlington, MA, and "Yerevan’s State Museum of Arts and Literature in Armenia.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Alan Hovhaness|