Hovhaness project

Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) is unique in the history of western music. An American-born composer, of an Armenian father and a Scottish mother, an author of more than 500 pieces of music (including 70 symphonies), a friend of musicians and dancers such as John Cage and Martha Graham, and a teacher to composers such as Dominique Argento and John S. Hilliard, his music blends a tremendous variety of
styles: western tonality, aleatoric music, renaissance polyphony, Armenian folklore, carnatic and hindustani music, Japanese traditional music, etc without drifting into pure eclecticism or trivial orientalism. This curious personality, Eastern influenced and extremely prolific, is tempered by an unprecedented harshness. It often happens that composers destroy their own music if they consider it not good enough: Hovhaness had these cathartic moments at least three times in his life and eliminated almost one hundred opus numbers (including two operas, seven symphonies and innumerable chamber pieces).

Hovhaness was fundamentally a contemplative composer with no concern for his own “career”. After a promising debut, an early “romantic period” (in which he was compared to Sibelius), and a strong training (especially in counterpoint) with Frederick Converse, he refused a scholarship to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Revealingly, he wrote for a survey about American composers for the American Music Center in 1949: “It is best that no mention be made of my scholarships or education because my direction is completely away from the approved path of any of my teachers – thus the responsibility [for attitudes towards my music] will be inflicted to no one but myself”. Up until his forties, he was known as a “composer without performances” but at 41 the great Stokowsky decided to conduct his Symphony n. 2. It would be the beginning of a career, strongly protective of his artistic integrity: an attitude that he kept throughout his life. In the Sixties he began a series of trips to the East in order to study musical practices and to learn to play traditional instruments: all these experiences are strongly present in his scores.

His peculiar musical attributes, the originality of his writing, his deep love for Nature, his pure spirituality, his complete detachment from the Avant-gardes, and his isolation in his search for “his own” music make Alan Hovhaness one of the most important outsiders of 20th century: in a period of academicism and institutionalisation of contemporary music, he is vital.

Selected Bibliography and Webography
Rosner Arnold, An analytical survey of the music of Alan Hovhaness. Ph. D. dissertation, State University of New York at Buffalo, 1972.

Wayne David Johnson, A study of the piano works of Alan Hovhaness. D.M.A. dissertation, University of Cincinnati, 1986
Wayne Johnson recorded Hovhaness piano music and worked in contact with Hovhaness himself: this research explains important features of Hovhaness piano music from the beginning to the Eighties.

An invaluable source of information on Hovhaness. It contains a detailed biography, some fundamental Hovhaness’ interviews, a complete list of works and recordings, a list of live performances, and a constantly updated and useful links page. Quotes from Hovhaness’ interviews are taken from this website.

The centennial page of Hovhaness, with all the related events.

Frank Perry, English musician, wrote
this interesting page on Hovhaness.

Eric Kunze is an ocean physicist who compiled an impressive discography of Hovhaness.

Facebook page on Hovhaness, managed by Marvin Rosen, pianist, who also recorded Hovhaness’ piano music.

An interview on the whole project by Marco Shirodkar can be found in the official Hovhaness website.