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Contemporary Music
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Alan Hovhaness

Alan Hovhaness was born Alan Vaness Chakmakjian on 8 March 1911 in Somerville, Massachusetts, to an Armenian father and a mother of Scottish descent. He died, aged 89, on 21 June 2000.


Hovhaness began composing as a child, but hid it from his disapproving parents; he was in college when he received his first compositional training (with Frederick Converse). His music is characterized by a direct simplicity of expression, a fondness for modal harmonies, reference to folk-music of various kinds (particularly Armenian, Oriental and Indian music) and an expression of the beauty and vastness of nature. Much of his music is spiritual in nature, a reflection of his life-long interest in meditation and mysticism.

Hovhaness was possibly the most prolific composer of the 20th Century: his 500 or so catalogued works do not include the hundreds of works he destroyed or suppressed in the 1930s and 1940s - a result of his decision to adopt a new musical language when he learned, while studying at Tanglewood, that Copland and Bernstein judged his music to be disagreeable. By the 1950s, Hovhaness had a successful career in the academic world and a steady stream of commissions and recordings.

Hovhaness's music encompasses works for solo keyboard to full symphonies, and seems to include at least one work for almost every conceivable combination of instruments and voices, including the unlikely blending of orchestra with the recorded songs of whales (And God Created Great Whales). His most well-known works include his second symphony, entitled Mysterious Mountain, and his fiftieth symphony, Mount St. Helens. Also popular is the Psalm and Fugue for (orchestral) Strings, Op.40a.

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