Classical Krsna - Part 2
BY: SUN STAFF
May 31, CANADA (SUN) Alan Hovhaness (1911 - 2000) was an exceptionally gifted composer of Armenian and Scottish descent, born in Somerville, Massachusetts in 1911. He began composing as soon as he could read music, at the age of four - a spontaneous act which seems to have had about it the inevitability of an unquestioned law of nature. Since that time he has been like a river flowing into every form of musical expression. From pieces for various solo instruments and chamber ensembles, including oriental instruments, his art expands nobly through large orchestras and choirs. His output is vast, as indeed are the giant melodies which characterize much of his work.
Among his thousands of fascinating musical works, one of his finest is Symphony 19, "Vishnu". This complex symphony transports the listener to the heavenly planets, and has introduced the Supreme Personality to classical music listeners around the world.
Alan Hovhaness' life and master works are aptly described by music historians Richard Howard and Tom Lewis, who write: "At the time of the second world war, Hovhaness made the courageous decision to destroy almost his entire previous output - more than a thousand works. This oft quoted "legend" is true, his reasons being bound up in his ever expanding awareness of the potential of combining Eastern with Western influences, which cast feelings of strong dissatisfaction on his work prior to that time. A detailed analysis and study of 7th century Armenian religious music, classical music of South India, orchestral music of Tang Dynasty China, Ah-ak of Korea, and Gagaku of Japan, revolutionized Hovhaness's approach to his own composing.
Since his "new beginning" he has composed more than 360 works to date, including orchestral pieces, concertos, oratorios, operas, chamber works, songs, and 52 symphonies (see Classified Index). All this is music of direct and exquisitely melodic nature, abounding in fascinating rhythmic invention, some of it using microtones (which, the composer feels, frees music from conventional Western restrictions, thereby allowing greater fluidity), and with a unity that touches on a sphere beyond the realm of mere orchestral sound.
Although widely performed (some twenty years ago. an astonishing 1,030 performances were reported by Broadcast Music, Inc. for a single year), the music of Alan Hovhaness is unknown to many and deserves to be better known and more frequently performed today. When this occurs one of the foremost musicians of our time will secure his rightful place."
Aside from his Symphony 19 "Vishnu" (1966), Hovhaness's connection to Eastern spirituality is also evident in the titles of works like the following:
Opus 33 - Love Songs of Hafiz (like Lord Krishna, darting) - 1936
Opus 36 - Ghazals - 1933
Opus 38 - Mazert Nman Rehani (Thy Hair is like a Basil (Tulasi) Leaf) - 1944
Opus 67 - Saris - 1946
Opus 103 - Jhala - 1951
Opus 146 - To the God Who is in the Fire (Sh'vet Upanishad 2:17) - 1955
Opus 179 - Symphony 8. Arjuna - 1947
Opus 223 - Symphony 20. Three Journeys to a Holy Mountain - 1968
Opus 228 - Shambala
Hovhaness's musical journey is also well described in the biographical notes published by C. F. Peters Corporation (1967): "The first strong influences on young Hovhaness were the study of astronomy and the music of the Armenian composer-priest Gomidas Vartabed. Also, long walks among the hills of New Hampshire brought about curious meditative moods in the young composer; accompanied by strong sensations of being both in a New England countryside and at the same time in some oriental country such as China or India, with mountains becoming giant melodies.
Hovhaness was organist in an Armenian church in Watertown, Massachusetts, where his original style of improvising in ancient modes during services attracted music lovers from distant cities ... Hovhaness studied the old Armenian notations collected by Father Hagop Mekjian. Because of the discipline and inspiration of this study, Hovhaness composed many books of new melodies, and developed his own long melodic line, creating giant melodies in both slow and fast tempi. An outstanding example of this is his Symphony 8, Arjuna, which he composed early in 1947. This symphony remained unperformed until February 1960, when it received its world premiere in Madras, India, after which it was performed in Japan, Korea, Germany, France, Hawaii and over CBC Vancouver.
Reviewing a Hovhaness Carnegie Hall concert in the New York Herald Tribune in 1947, Virgil Thomson wrote of Hovhaness's music: 'It's expressive function is predominantly religious, ceremonial, incantatory, its spiritual content of the purest. .. The high quality of the music, the purity of its inspiration, is evidenced in the extreme beauty of the melodic material, which is original material, not collected folklore, and in the perfect sweetness of taste it leaves in the mouth.... It brings delight to the ear, and pleasure to the thought. For all its auditory complexity - for ornateness is of the essence - it is utterly simple in feeling, pure in spirit and high-minded."