Alan Scott Hovhaness
(1911 - 2000, USA)
"Part of my music is easy to listen to, in a certain respect. One must penetrate beneath the suraface of a certain kind of beauty -- one must listen to it with a certain concentration and listen to it many times before it reveals all that you have to say.... I wish to create something for the unconscious mind, not for the conscious mind."
Alan Hovhaness, from an interview with CBC Vancouver, October 1968
Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) was one of the 20th century's most prolific composers. Of Armenian and Scottish descent, Hovhaness grew up in the Boston area, studying music at the New England Conservatory. As far back as his student days, he showed great interest in non-Western music. Listening to the Armenian singer Komitas, Hovhaness learned about "saying as much as possible with the fewest possible notes." This was a radical path to take in the 1940s, and one from which he rarely strayed.
Hovhaness cites his studies in the Far East, as well as his exposure to Uday Shankar (brother of Ravi) as the source of the mysticism in his music. But despite this ethereal influence, Hovhaness composed in a clear, linear style. He once wrote: "I've always listened to my own voice. I was discontented with the kind of music that everyone said I should write - all clever and dissonant, intellectualized. I wanted to write music that was deeply felt, music that would move people."
The popular Prayer of Saint Gregory, whose lyrical trumpet line is intoned over rich string chords, is a prime example of the simple nobility and affirmation of faith found in much of his music. The work has received thousands of performances, and has been recorded by a number trumpeters, including Wynton Marsalis.
Lousadzak: Coming of Light, for piano and strings was written just after Hovhaness' residence at the Tanglewood Music Center in 1942, and popularized much later by pianist Keith Jarrett on a Music Masters recording conducted by Dennis Russell Davies. Based on modal scales, the melodic material is enlivened by Baroque-like passagework. Yet it also represents the composer's first work based on Armenian music.
As a tribute to Hovhaness' unswerving vision, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1977. In 1991, the American Composers Orchestra, in conjunction with the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, presented the Alan Hovhaness 80th Birthday Gala Celebration at Carnegie Hall. Featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning conductor and composer Karel Husa, Grammy Award-winning singer Richie Havens, and clarinetist Lawrence Sobol, and with Hovhaness himself conducting the first and last works, the celebration saw the world premiere of his Symphony No. 65, entitled "Artstakh." It carried the phenomenal opus number of 428.