About this Recording
FECD-0006 - HOVHANESS: Concerto No. 7 / Symphony No. 15 / Magnificat

Alan Hovhaness

Alan Hovhaness


Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) is rightly known as a trend-setting pioneer who melded East and West in music. Of the few modern composers considered ‘true originals’ he is one of still fewer - another is Messiaen - whose music is of such distinctive personality that it could be mistaken for no other. Unlike Messiaen, Hovhaness’ art is not religiously inspired, but guided by a musical sensibility attuned with otherworldly affinities. If this has discouraged serious investigation by the musicological fraternity (which to its shame, has still to acknowledge Hovhaness’s huge innovations) it has certainly not hindered widespread public receptivity to his art.


Born Alan Vaness Chakmakjian to Armenian and Scottish (but unmusical) parents, Hovhaness composed secretly from childhood, by his twenties acquiring formidable fluency in counterpoint as well as admiration for the music of Sibelius, whom he met in Finland in 1935. The following year he witnessed the earliest performances of Indian music in Boston. But his fascination with the East gained real momentum through employment at the Armenian Church in Watertown, MA. By 1943 he was assimilating the Armenian music of his paternal ancestors. Radical works followed which shunned harmony in favor of giant unscrolling melodies, supported only by static drones - a striking prophecy of the 1960s Minimalist ‘school’. Perhaps more radical were passages of ‘spirit murmur’, first introduced in 1944’s Lousadzak. In these quasi-aleatoric sections performers repeat musical phrases without synchronicity, creating textural clouds of sound. This pre-dated not only similar techniques of Lutoslawksi and Ligeti in the 1960s, but also the ‘indeterminacy’ explorations of Hovhaness’s friend John Cage.


Hovhaness’s style evolved in the 1950s while his reputation snowballed, as did performances and commissions from major conductors and ensembles, including the Louisville Orchestra. Research scholarships in India (1959–60), Korea and Japan (1962) further broadened the assimilation of Eastern musics. In the hands of a lesser composer, such diverse influences could have made for an incongruous palette of eclectic idioms. Instead, Hovhaness’s huge if uneven musical legacy (exceeding 450 opus numbers) betrays a seamless fusion of archaic with modern and Oriental with Occidental - in short, his vision of “music for all people … which is beautiful and healing” without compromising artistic integrity.


- Marco Shirodkar



Alan Hovhaness


Alan Hovhaness always seemed to me a mystic, a man possessed of an unmistakable inner calm that radiated into his music. These compositions reveal so much of Alan’s core:


Armenian - acutely aware of the horrendous years of genocide and suffering they endured.

Religious - an aura of his asceticism and deep beliefs in Buddhism combined with Zoroastrian traditions.

Retiring - a feeling of inner peace that one can so easily discern in these musical works.


Alan’s music embodied both his passion for his Near Eastern roots from his father’s family lineage, and a love of American energy and the tradition of western European composition.  A prolific composer who never achieved the prominence he deserved despite his delightful and popular work, And God Created Whales (1970), commissioned by my great friend Andre Kostelanetz. I have always believed that this lack of notoriety was due to his disinterest in selfpromotion. Neither he nor his beautiful and protective wife ever let popularity interfere with his strong but quiet determination to simply compose what was in his heart and mind.


I can still see the beatific look on his countenance as we listened side-by-side, to the recording session, led by Robert Whitney, of his magnificent Magnificat. It was my great privilege to occasionally see him over a period of many years, and I was indeed fortunate to produce these wonderfully expressive works by the Louisville Orchestra.


-  Howard Scott



Concerto No. 7 for Orchestra, Opus 116


Dedicated by Alan Hovhaness to the Louisville Orchestra.


The following commentary by Alan Hovhaness is reprinted from the original First Edition Records LP release.


Concerto No. 7 for Orchestra in three movements was begun in Cummington, Massachusetts, around August 1, 1953 and completed in New York City, October 18, 1953.


I. Allegretto - The exposition is a canzona for flutes ending with oboe and horns - A development in strings and brass in canon culminates in a hymn for brass - The recapitulation is a new canzona for clarinets, bassoons and oboe.


II. Allegro (Jhala-Scherzo) - Jhala is a term borrowed from Hindustani classical music. Porcelain water cups are played by a stick. The figuration derived from this style is called Jhala. The instrument called Jhala-Tarranga means waves of water. The exposition features a Jhala for xylophone - The development is a canon for strings, brass, and woodwinds. The recapitulation is a new Jhala for glockenspiel.


III. Double Fugue - An introduction leads to the exposition of the first subject in the horns - the lively second subject in strings is developed and combined with the first subject. Canons in woodwinds lead to a free hymn-like variation. A rapid canon in strings accompanies a brilliant canon variation in brass. A final lively canon in strings and woodwinds becomes the accompaniment to a final bell-like canon in brass. The work concludes with a brief epilogue entitled Hymn to Louisville.


- Alan Hovhaness



Of Hovhaness’s many concertos (some without soloist) Concerto No.7 (1953) is one of only a handful indexed by number. Regrettably, his evocatively-titled Mysterious Mountain symphony (1955) has eclipsed this earlier tour-de-force - a true sister-piece in that it too comprises three movements incorporating a double fugue.


Basic thematic cells sow the seeds for all three movements, the outer ones displaying the finely wrought neo-Renaissance polyphony characteristic of 1950s Hovhaness. Cyclic pizzicato and tuned percussion pointillisms imbue a certain exoticism throughout. More subtly exotic are elements of North Indian music. The concerto is broadly in the Hindustani bhairavi mode (akin to the Greek Phrygian). Timpani writing betrays principles of tala (rhythmic cycles) in Indian tabla drumming, and the central Scherzo-like movement employs a Hindustani title, Jhala. Jhala idiom is a fastpaced alternation of melody note and repeating drone note, here colorfully extolled by xylophone and glockenspiel - the latter’s rendition punctuated with a tabla-imitating timpani glissando in a cycle of 37.


The work’s centerpiece is the Double Fugue finale. The noble first fugue is on brass, the breezy second on strings. After the fugue subjects are superimposed, a series of canonic episodes intensifies to an ecstatic orchestral climax. In this orgiastic dance, myriad ostinati are skillfully interwoven, underpinned by thrusting timpani talas. Suddenly the commotion is dispersed by a magical coda entitled Hymn To Louisville (so titled because the Louisville Orchestra commissioned the work). Dignified brass and hovering violin clusters summon a mood of quiescence, soon broken by a solemn but surprising final cadence.


- Marco Shirodkar



Symphony No. 15, Opus 199, “Silver Pilgrimage”


Hovhaness’s research periods in India, Japan and Korea at the beginning of the 1960s afforded lessons from native instrumentalists. This first-hand ethnomusicological exposure prompted his Indo-Oriental phase of the 1960s. Symphony No. 15, Opus 199, ‘Silver Pilgrimage’ (1963), synthesizes elements of both Japanese Gagaku and Indian traditions, and is titled after the novel Silver Princess by Justice Anantanarayanan (an account of a pilgrimage by a young Indian prince). Like many a Hovhaness symphony, it eschews traditional symphonic architectonics, each of the four movements instead portraying a specific concept or mood. The first three movements’ modes approximate Indian ragas.


- Marco Shirodkar



I. Mount Ravana - suggests the mystery and wrath of a mountain prophet. The music combines a 7/4 meter with a free rhythmless murmuring in the violins, using only these tones: G, A-flat, B-flat, D-sharp, E, F-sharp, and exploring these tones in a variety of linear and vertical permutations. At certain points, mode clusters make for decidedly non-Indian dissonances, and the notes’ different cut-off points imitate a Japanese mouth organ effect (used again in the work’s fourth movement) which fascinated Hovhaness. Throughout, the timpani flourish recurs every 19 beats.


II. Marava Princess - is lyrical and dance-like – suggesting the idea or image of feminine grace. A lyric line, sometimes in canon, is sounding over a murmur of rhythmless sounds. Only six tones (E, F, G-sharp, A, C-sharp, and D-sharp) are used.


III. River of Meditation - suggests the spirit of religious meditation of a sage by a river. Again, only seven tones are used: D, D-flat, E, F, G-flat, A, and B-flat, within a 7/5 meter. The movement is essentially a long flute solo with no metric indications played very freely over rhytmnless sounds in the strings. The flute evokes the meditating sage, the chattering pizzicato strings, the river’s flow.


IV. Heroic Gates of Peace - suggests the spirit of the peaceful reign of wisdom wherein harmony is achieved between heaven and earth. Non-Indian musical principles suggesting Gagaku in the spirit of Tang Dynasty China, Renaissance counterpoint, and long melodic lines are all combined to effect a universal world hymn.



Magnificat for Four Solo Voices, Chorus, and Orchestra, Opus 157


The following letter, dated August 8, 1961 conveys Alan Hovhaness’ reaction to the Louisville Orchestra First Edition world premiere recording of his Magnificat, commissioned four years earlier, yet until 1961, unrecorded.


Dear Mr. Whitney:


Thank you very much for your wonderful performance and recording of my Magnificat. The tempi, expression, and climaxes are all perfect and your record will become the guide to all future performances. This is my finest work and I am very grateful and happy that it is so beautifully recorded with authenticity, accuracy, and inspiration. Many thanks.


All best wishes,


Alan Hovhaness

Elibris, Vitznau



By 1951 Henry Cowell cited Hovhaness’s music as “contemporary development of the archaic spirit [that] sounds like the music of nobody else at all.” Radiating such a spirit is the Magnificat of 1957, a work commissioned by the Koussevitsky Foundation and scored for soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone, choir and orchestra.


Never conventionally religious, yet feeling more in attunement with ancient civilizations than modern society, Hovhaness readily warmed to the musical and mystical possibilities offered by Biblical texts.


Magnificat’s judicious use of instrumental groupings and idioms makes for highly contrasting moods and textures, whilst retaining an overall mystical cohesiveness. There are weightless jaunts (Et Misericordia), Byzantine incantations, pastoral outings (Suscepit Israel), even un-Hovhanessian passages of organum (Magnificat and Gloria Patri).


Several of the work’s 12 sections employ the composer’s mysterious ‘free rhythm’ textures. This is perhaps most striking when sung by the choir in Sicut Locutus Est – from silence a swirling cloud of buzzing voices arises, peaks and then recedes back to nothingness. Certainly Hovhaness achieved in this work his stated aim of evoking “the mystery, inspiration and mysticism of early Christianity”.


- Marco Shirodkar


The following commentary from Alan Hovhaness are the notes that he wrote, accompanying the score for the Magnificat. They are reprinted from the original First Edition LP release.


I. Celestial Fanfare - an introduction beginning with a murmuring passage in the basses which rises to a climax and recedes. Trombone, horn, and trumpet sound a long melodic line of religious mood.


II. Magnificat (Chorus) - is for chorus. The organum for all voices leads to a brief fugato (a passage of fugal imitations), ending again in an organum.


III. Et Exsultavit (Tenor) - is a tenor solo accompanied by murmuring pizzicato passages in the violas.


IV. Quia Respexit (Soprano) - is a soprano solo leading to a women’s chorus.


V. Omnes Generationes (Women’s Chorus) - in three parts, is accompanied by rhythmless murmuring in the lower strings and harp.


VI. Quia Fecit Mihi Magna (Baritone and Chorus) - is for bass solo and chorus, accompanied by free rhythm in the basses… a wild and stormy rhythmless passage in the strings rises to a thunderous climax and recedes to a pianissimo.


VII. Et Misericordia (Soprano) - Violas and cellos hold a four-note cluster throughout. The oboes play a rapid melody which is taken up by the soprano voice.


VIII. Fecit Potentiam (Alto) - a solemn trombone solo sounds the prelude and postlude.


IX. Esurientes Implevit Bonis (Tenor and Men’s Chorus) - a free-rhythm passage in the strings from fortissimo to pianissimo leads to the held A in the men’s chorus. In Byzantine style the tenor sings a florid melody over the held A.


X. Suscepit Israel (Women’s Chorus) - oboe, strings, and harp accompany the voices.


XI. Sicut Locutus Est (Baritone and Chorus) - an introduction for oboes and horns leads to a passage in the strings. The chorus enters, every voice chanting in its own time, like the superstitious murmuring of a great crowd, rising like a wave of sound and receding again into the distance. A similar passage in the lower strings becomes the background to a bass solo. Later oboes and horns lead to a rhythmless passage in the violins. Again the murmuring chorus rises to a fortissimo climax in free rhythm and diminishes to pianissimo.


XII. Gloria Patri (Chorus) - an introduction for trombone solo accompanied by murmuring basses leads to a rhytmless climax in the strings. “Gloria” is sounded by the sopranos and then the entire chorus. A heroic melody in the style of a noble galliard is sounded by first and second trumpets and is taken up later by the chorus. The music builds to a final climax.


- Alan Hovhaness

Close the window