Acclaimed as one of America’s most often performed and prolific composers, he
occupies a unique position among the major composers of the Twentieth
Century. Born on March 8, 1911 to
Haroutiun Hovhanes Chakmakjian, an Armenian American professor of chemistry at
Tufts College and Madeleine Scott Chakmakjian of Scottish descent and a
Wellesley College graduate, Alan Hovhaness grew up in Arlington, Massachusetts
and graduated from the Arlington High School in 1929.
He began composing from the
early age of seven. His first piece an opera, “Daniel” was written when he was
in junior high school. He studied piano with Adelaide Proctor and Heinrich
Gebhard, and later under Frederick Converse at the New England Conservatory of
Music (1932). He considered his main teachers Hermon DiGiovanno, a Greek mystic
painter, and Masataro Togi, a great Gagaku musician of Japan. In 1943 DiGiovanno guided him into the
ancient world of Armenia, Greece, Egypt, and India.
During the 1940s, he earned a meager
income as an organist at the St. James Armenian Church in Watertown,
Massachusetts, where he studied the art of ancient Armenian music, further
expanding his interests in Eastern music and Eastern culture. Tragically, it
was at this point in his life, that Hovhaness repudiated his early works,
destroying most of them (about one thousand scores in all!).
Later he became a professor at
the Boston Conservatory of Music and the Eastman School of Music in Rochester,
New York. In 1954 he wrote the score
for the Broadway play, The Flowering
Peach by Clifford Odets, and then two scores for NBC documentaries. His
biggest breakthrough came in 1955, when his Symphony No. 2, Mysterious Mountain, was commissioned
for Leopold Stokowski's debut with the Houston Symphony. That year MGM Records
released recordings of a number of his works.
1966 until his death in 2000 he was composer-in-residence with the Seattle
Symphony Orchestra. As a tribute to his musical genius Hovhaness received
numerous awards from American institutions, such as the National Institute of
Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim Foundation, Fulbright Scholar, and the
Rockefeller Foundation. Hovhaness’ compositions exceed 500, including 9 operas,
2 ballets, and 67 symphonies. Summing up Hovhaness’ rich musical career Time Magazine wrote “No other American
composer has absorbed the breadth of musical history as Hovhaness nor has or
been temperamentally equipped to express his response to it so naturally.”
His music is accessible to the
lay listener and often invokes a mood of mystery or contemplation. Boston Globe music critic Richard Buell
wrote: "Although he has been stereotyped as a self-consciously Armenian
composer (rather as Ernest Bloch is seen as a Jewish composer), his output
assimilates the music of many cultures. What may be most American about all of
it is the way it turns its materials into a kind of exoticism. The atmosphere
is hushed, reverential, mystical, nostalgic."
As part of its Armenian
Diaspora Music Project, the Armenian Cultural Foundation initiated the idea of
developing the Alan Hovhaness Collection in 2009 on the occasion of and
concurrent with erecting a memorial dedicated to the composer in his hometown
Arlington, Massachusetts in 2009.
The Alan Hovhaness Collection
catalogue presented here is one of the four largest and most comprehensive
collections of documents on the life and artistic legacy of the world renowned
composer. The other three centers with major holdings are the Library of
Congress in Washington, D.C., University of Seattle in the State of Washington,
and the International Alan Hovhaness Research Center in Yerevan, Armenia.
Click here for The Alan Hovhaness Collection.