Alan Hovhaness (1911–2000): Symphony No. 7 ‘Nanga Parvat’
Symphony No. 14 ‘Ararat’ • Symphony No. 23 ‘Ani’
Symphony No. 7 ‘Nanga Parvat’ was commissioned by the American Wind Symphony of Pittsburgh PA and composed 16th to 28 November 1959. Nanga Parvat is a Kashmir mountain of 26,000 feet—serene, majestic, aloof, terrible in storm, forever frozen in treeless snow. The name means “Without Trees”. It is one of the world’s most dangerous and difficult mountains to climb.
- Con Ferocità. Representing the tiger-like ferocity of the Himalayan Mountains. Texture of multiple strands of rhythms meeting and passing.
- March. The sounds suggest wild improvised village marches in raucous woodwinds and false brass unisons. These savage sounds are organized into severe forms including two polymodal isorhythmic canons in woodwinds. Percussion plays forward and retrograde rhythm; timpani plays contracting and expanding rhythm. The march is an isorhythmic structure.
- Sunset. Noble and heroic processional with clashing bells in superimposed meters. Tone clusters in high woodwinds are like shafts of light through craggy peaks.
Symphony No. 14 ‘Ararat’ was commissioned by the American Wind Symphony of Pittsburgh PA. Wild fierceness of volcanic earthquakes and avalancheshaken mountains, rough stones, caves, rocks sculptured by tornadoes inspired this symphony of rough-hewn sounds.
- An introduction of somber dragon-fly sounds in low clarinets, horns, trombones and roaring drums leads to a morose three-tone and later, four-tone melody in low clarinets under flute clusters. Bassoons sing a clashing modal melody against the clarinets. A giant melody emerges, sung antiphonally between two groups of trumpets, followed by horns and trombones against dissonant clusters. Intensity increases in power and dissonance. (In ancient music, sounds of brief duration touched and released against longer sustained sounds were called “dragon-flies,” as the dragon-fly skims on the surface of the water.)
- Clashing bells 5/8, 7/8, 11/8, 13/8, 17/8, drums 19/8 ring in clangor. Dark trombones, clarinets, bassoons and horns sound ominous dragon-fly formations. Bells, lightning and thunder sound in piccolos, flutes and threatening trombones. Dark rumblings grow into a cataclysm of sounds.
- Crashing drum meters 19/8, 17/8, 13/8, 7/4, 13/4, 23/8 clash continuously. Six trumpets sound a fierce unison cry of mighty peaks bursting into sound clusters and then resolving into single tones. The trumpets rise above the roaring sea of superimposed drum rhythms.
The poet Isahagian, writes of the peak of Mt. Ararat: “Infinite lightnings have touched the sword of the diamond.”
There are no folk-tunes in any of the music. Traditional ragas and modes are suggested, but all of the melodies are original.
Symphony No. 23 ‘Ani’ was commissioned by the Smithtown Central High School Symphonic Band, Lawrence Sobol, conductor, and composed between 1st and 18 January 1972. Ani is the name of a ruined city, the capital of medieval Armenia, “city of a thousand and one cathedrals”.
- The first movement, Adagio, begins and ends in seven meter. The music suggests the spirit of a mighty cathedral. One hears, however, bells, sounds like many birds, and roaring sounds of nature, followed by a fugue and a majestic close.
- The second movement, Allegro grazioso, is a humoresque, beginning and ending in seven meter. There are gamelan-like sounds, (an orchestra of bells), then a trio, or middle section, in thirteen meter, followed by bird-like music.
- The third movement, Adagio, is an elegiac song, gradually becoming powerful, defiant, and finally rejoicing in a victorious fugue. The symphony ends with tumultuous bells.