Composer Alan Hovhaness Dies at 89

SEATTLE (Associated Press)–Alan Hovhaness–a prolific composer who melded Western and Asian musical styles to create a unique melodic blend of his own–died Wednesday. He was 89.

Hovhaness died at Swedish Medical Center–according to Gerard Schwarz–music director of the Seattle Symphony. Hovhaness had been a composer-in-residence with the orchestra. Schwarz said Hovhaness had suffered from a severe stomach ailment for the last three years.

“His music reflects the kind of gentle–wonderful soul that he was–but also has the turbulence that one sees in an eruption of a volcano or a tremendous thunderstorm,” Schwarz said.

Hovhaness wrote more than 400 pieces–including at least nine operas–two ballets–more than 60 symphonies–and more than 100 chamber pieces.

His works include “Lousadzak” (1944)–for piano and orchestra; “Wind Drum” (1962)–a music-dance drama; “And God Created the Great Whales” (1970); and “The Way of Jesus” (1974)–a folk Mass.

He was born Alan Vaness Chamakjian–in Somerville–Mass.–in 1911. His mother was Scottish and his father–an Armenian chemistry professor.

Throughout his career–Hovhaness exhibited a distinct affinity toward his Armenian heritage–composing several important works such as "The Torchbearer" (Chahagir) for violin–"The Van Sonata" violin concerto–"Armenian Rhapsody 1–2 and 3,"St. Gregory the Illuminator’s Prayer" and the "Etchmiadzin" symphony.

Well-known pianist Sahan Ardzruni performed Hovhaness’ works with great passion.

Hovhaness demonstrated musical precociousness at an early age–devising his own method of notation by age 5. Three years later–when the family moved to the Boston area–he began studying piano with Adelaide Proctor and later took instruction from Heinrich Gebhard.

In 1932–he went to the New England Conservatory on a scholarship and for two years studied composition there with Frederick Converse.

His early compositions were thoroughly Western. But the influences of Eastern musical styles became more evident after he attended Bohuslav Martinu’s master class in composition in 1942 at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood.

Hovhaness was the first Western composer asked to write music for an orchestra comprised entirely of Indian instrumen’s. He served for six months as composer-in-residence at the University of Hawaii and became a composer-in-residence with the Seattle Symphony in 1966.

It should be pointed out that since its inception in 1989–the Horizon Armenian Television program has begun with one Hovhaness’ great works.


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