My purpose is to create music, not for snobs, but for all people , music which is beautiful and healing, to attempt what the old Chinese painters called spirit resonance in melody and sound. - Alan Hovhaness
When Alan Hovhaness died in June 2000 he had acheived what very few other classical composers have acheived. Not only did he become appreciated within his own lifetime, his music has been elevated to almost cult status, perhaps because of his interest in the natural world, spirituality and Eastern mysticism.
And maybe also because he caters to us, the general listener, rather than academic. Whatever the reason, his music has developed broad and almost fervent appeal.
Yet this is not new-age waterfall-in-the-rainforest musical twaddle. Hovhaness' compositional style carries on from the baroque, relying heavily on counterpoint and fugal structure. But never at the expense of melodic and harmonic beauty. Its almost as if the style of Bach or Handel was transported into the 21st century.
I am more interested in creating fresh, spontaneous, singing melodic lines than in the factory-made tonal patterns of industrial civilization or the splotches and spots of sounds hurled at random on a canvas of imaginary silence. - Alan Hovhaness
Alan Hovhaness was born in 1911 to an Armenian father and a Scottish mother, and was composing from an early age. His output of over 400 works, including no less than 67 symphonies is unsurpassed since Haydn's 103 symphonies. Despite his current popularity, he was largely ignored for the first half of his life, until Fritz Reiner recorded his second symphony Mysterious Mountain
with the Chicago Symphony in 1958.
He has suffered the criticism of quantity vs quality, and the majority of his symphonies are unrecorded and some remain unpublished. Yet Mysterious Mountain
put Hovhaness on the musical map. Commissioned by Andre Kostelanetz, then conductor of the New York Philharmonic, it remains one of his most popular works.
This is a symphony is the sense of a large-scale orchestral work, rather than the strict classical sonata form. It has a rich texture evoking a medieval tapestry, yet a characteristically clear and uncomplicated line. It is easy to listen to, without being easy listening.
Simplicity is difficult, not easy. Beauty is simple. All unnecessary elements are removed - only essence remains.- Alan Hovhaness
And God Created Great Whales
must be Hovhaness' best loved works. Written much later in 1970, it depicts the transformation of chaos to beauty, the creation of the earth, the oceans and whales. He uses a typical Hovhaness technique that he calls Senza Misura
where the original chaos is represented by the string players peforming musical fragments independent of each other, which gradually coalesce into form.
But the true stars of this work are the whales, whose songs are an integral part of the work, majestic, dignified and sad. How they got the huge aquarium into the recording studio remains a mystery.
The remainder of the works on this CD are lesser known, The Prelude and Quadruple Fugue
appearing for the first time. It is a fragment from his first String Quartet
of 1936, which survived Hovhaness' burning of a huge volume (up to 1000 pieces) of his own music in 1940. Despite the academic name, this is music of great appeal. The Prayer of St. Gregory
, rapidly becoming a mainstay of the concert hall, Alleluia and Fugue
and Celestial Fantasy
round out this disc.
Hovhaness was an original. An American composer who did not compose Americanism, a modern musician who ignored (or re-defined) modernism. If you know his music, you will love this compilation, and if your new to Hovhaness, this is the best introduction there is.
He wasn't an innovator like Stravinski or Schoenberg. He wasn't trying to change the world. He was just trying to add beauty and sensitivity to the world. - Gerard Schwarz, in Hovhaness' obituary in the Seattle Times, June 22, 2000.
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Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000)
And other works
Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Mysterious Mountain (Symphony no.2) (17:00)
- I - Andante con moto
- II - Double Fugue
- III - Andante espressivo
- Prayer of St. Gregory (4:45)
- Prelude and Quadruple Fugue (7:25)
- And God Created Great Whales (12:14)
- Alleluia and Fugue (9:13)
- Celestial Fantasy (8:15)