Alan Hovhaness Biography

Alan Hovhaness
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Quick Facts

Birthday: March 8, 1911

Nationality: American

Died At Age: 89

Sun Sign: Pisces

Born in: Somerville

Famous as: Composer

Armenian Men Massachusetts Musicians


Spouse/Ex-: Hinako Fujihara

father: Haroutioun Hovanes Chakmakjian

mother: madeleine scott

children: Jean Nandi Hovhaness

Died on: June 21, 2000

place of death: Seattle

U.S. State: Massachusetts

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Alan Hovhaness was an Armenian-American music composer. As one of the most prolific performers of 20th century, his official catalogue comprised 67 symphonies and 434 opus numbers. Some of his remarkable creations include ‘Symphony No. 17’ and Guitar Concerto No. 1. While creating Lousadzak, he applied an advanced technique that he referred to as ‘spirit murmur’. In his quest for ancient traditional music of various countries, he visited India, Hawaii, Japan and South Korea. He destroyed many of his earlier works after facing criticism for them. Most of these works were the proof of his interest towards Renaissance style. He got his first recognition as a composer through his symphony Exile and BBC Symphony performed it in London. From 1940 onwards, he became interested towards Armenian music and applied its form and technique in some of his creations. A recipient of Fullbright Fellowship, he was the first Western composer who got the invitation to join in the music festival of Madras, India. In Japan, he appeared in television and conducted music with the Tokyo Symphony. In later part of his life, he studied Indian Carnatic music and Japanese gagaku music to enrich his knowledge in music. His life and work has acted as inspiration for several films also.
Childhood & Early Life
Born in Somevile, Massachusetts, Alan Hovhaness was the son of Haroutioun Hovanes Chakmakjian and Madeleine Scott. His previous name was Alan Vaness Chakmakjian. His father was a chemistry professor at Tufts College.
After his mother’s death in 1930, he started using the surname ‘Hovaness’. He began showing interest in music at an early age. He did his first composition at the age of four and was inspired by Franz Schubert. He attended Tufts College.
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In 1932, he won the Conservatory's Samuel Endicott prize for composing a symphony entitled, Sunset Symphony. In July 1934, he travelled to Finland to meet with Jean Sibelius, a renowned composer of that country.
In 1936, he attended a performance in Boston by the dance troupe of Uday Shankar, an Indian dance troupe which developed his interest in Indian music. During the period of 1930s, he was a part of FDR’s federal WPA’s Federal Music Project.
He developed an interest in Armenian culture and music in 1940 and worked as an organist for St. James Armenian Apostolic Church in Watertown, Massachusetts where he remained for the next ten years.
During the middle part of 1940, along with his two friends who were interested in Indian classical music, he used to discuss about spirituality and musical matters. During this period, he learnt to play sitar.
In 1940s, the members of the immigrant Armenian community namely the Friends of Armenian Music Committee helped him by providing sponsorship for several of his music concerts in New York.
In 1946, he composed Etchmiadzin, an Armenian themed opera which was commissioned by a local Armenian church. In the year 1948 he joined the Boston Conservatory where he taught till 1951.
In 1951, he moved to the New York City where he became a full-time composer. He also worked for Voice of America where he joined as script writer, director, composer and musical consultant for the Near East and Transcaucasian sections. He lost this job when Dwight D. Eisenhower became the U.S. President in 1953.
In 1954, he received Guggenheim Fellowships for his composition and composed music for Broadway play The Flowering Peach the same year.
His biggest breakthrough came in 1955 for his Symphony No. 2, Mysterious Mountain which was premiered by Leopold Stokowski. In the same year, MGM Records released a number of his works.
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From 1956 to 1958, at the request of one of his admirers, Howard Hanson, he taught at the Eastman School of Music.
From 1959 to 1963, as part of his research trips, he visited India, Hawaii, Japan and South Korea. He studied Carnatic music in Madras (India) and learnt playing Veena. Simultaneously, he also created a score for Carnatic orchestra Nagooran. All India Radio broadcast this work in 1960.
In 1962, he remained busy in studying Japanese gagaku music. Based on his knowledge of Japanese music, he created Fantasy on Japanese Wodprints, a concerto.
In 1963, he came up with his second ballet score for Martha Graham, namely, Circe. He also established a record label to release his own works namely Poseidon Society.
In 1973, he created Myth of a Voyage, his third and final ballet composition for Martha Graham.
In 1981, he composed scores for Indonesian gamelan orchestra at the request of Lou Harrison.
Major Works
His first work which made use of an innovative technique was Lousadzak. Appearing in 1945, its technique involved instruments which repeated phrases in uncoordinated fashion which led to the producing of a ‘carpet’ of sounds.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married six times. Around 1934, he got married to Martha Mott Davis with whom he had a daughter namely Jean Christina Hovhaness. In 1947, he married his third wife Serafina Ferrante , a dancer. He married for the sixth time in 1977.
He passed away in Seattle due to a prolonged stomach ailment. He was survived by his wife coloratura soprano Hinako Fujihara Hovhaness and daughter Jean.
The archives of his scores, recordings, photographs and correspondence are available at Harvard University, University of Washington, Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and Yerevan’s State Museum of Arts and Literature in Armenia
Due to criticism of his work, he destroyed many of his early creations during the 1930s and 1940s. According to his claim, it took around two weeks for him to destroy 1000 different pieces of works.

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