Alan Hovhaness

His full name was Alan Vaness Scott Chakmakjian Hovhaness, which is a rich mouthfull due to his mixed Armenian/American-Scottish ancestry! He ditched most of the names assigned to him at birth, however, so that all sources agree on using just 'Alan Hovhaness' -with the surname being pronounced (approximately!) as "Hoh-várnis", with the stress on the last part of the name.

Whatever the mixed nationality of his parents, he himself was born in Massachusetts in 1911, dying in Seattle in 2000: so, thoroughly American, but with a musical language rich in Armenian modalities. His musical output was staggering: there are over 400 assigned opus numbers and at least 67 symphonies -and that's after (as he later claimed) he destroyed over 1000 works from his youth during the 1930s and 1940s.

He studied music formally with Frederick Shepherd Converse at the New England Conservatory of Music at the turn of the 1920s/1930s. He travelled to meet Sibelius in 1934, and remained in touch with him by letter until Sibelius' death in the 1950s: it gives some idea of how important an influence on him Sibelius really was. He didn't become a full-time composer until the 1950s. He travelled extensively throughout Asia around that time, studying the traditional music of the various cultures he encountered and, eventually, incorporating some of its richness and instrumental effects into his own works: in the 1980s, he wrote two entire works for gamelan orchestra (the percussion-rich music of Indonesia).

His work tends to the richly-orchestrated and colourful, with many based on exotic, religious or philosophical introspection (think: US equivalent of Michael Tippett in that regard!) His twelve operas were likewise mostly based on complex librettos of his own writing (think Michael Tippett again!)

It's a complicated story, however, as his birth-surname was 'Chakmakjian' which he voluntarily dropped in favour of 'Hóvaness', where the stress was on the first syllable. Only later did he adopt the universally accepted 'Hovhaness' spelling, stressed on the second.

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Music Plays from my collection
(since January 9th 2021)

Date of PlayTime of PlayGenreCompositionLengthPlay Count
Date of PlayTime of PlayGenreCompositionLengthPlay Count