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Opening a Window to Cosmic Love: Private Acetate Discs ca. 1946​-​55

by Alan Hovhaness



"I'm trying to find a form of music which will open the windows to a cosmic love of the universe to everybody so that everybody will listen. I don't want anything intellectual to get in the way. I'm forced to stay away from the intellectual by some inner feeling. One shouldn't have it at all or should develop it as a servant to a cosmic sense of beauty and love."
-Alan Hovhaness interviewed by Shoghere Markarian May 22, 1977 in the Carnegie Deli, New York City, published in Ararat Quarterly, 1977

These recordings are derived from acetate-covered, aluminum-core discs, cut one-at-a-time for the composer, Alan Hovhaness (b. 1911; d. 2000), and presented to his protegé, the pianist and teacher Shoghere Markarian (b. 1926; d. 2007) with the exception of track 1, which was cut from a radio broadcast for Markarian herself. They comprise private recordings of works-in-progress, radio broadcasts, and live recordings made during a fruitful and transitional period during Hovhaness's career. Among them is the only extant recording of Markarian, who never recorded commercially and maintained a close relationship with Hovhaness for a half a century.

Shoghere Markanian was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the daughter of Armenian immigrants from Kharput and Palu. Urged by her mother, Shoghere approached Hovhaness for music lessons when she was 16, ca. 1942, and he accepted her. She became his last pupil. She subsequently studied under Grete Sultan and at Longy School of Music in Cambridge, MA, the Dalcroze school in Boston, and at Juilliard. She also studied under Maurice Tei Dunn and Claudia de Lys. Markarian premiered Hovhaness's Khaldis in Greenwich Village. She also accompanied dance classes for Martha Graham and Katherine Dunham and taught music for more than 40 years at The Diller-Quaile School of Music, The Bloomingdale House of Music, Womanschool, and Cedarhurst School.
(She was married from 1956 until the early 70s to the saxophonist Caesar DiMauro, who is perhaps best remembered as performer with Woody Herman and George Shearing and musical director for Tony Bennett.) She published her writing in Armenian-American periodicals and in the 1990s presented a performance project based on the correspondence between Hovhaness and Arshile Gorky. Although little-recorded, Markarian dedicated her career to the pursuit of music, theater, poetry, and art.

Born Alan Vaness Chakmakjian to an Armenian father and Scottish mother in Somerville, Massachusetts in 1911, Hovhaness began writing down the music that flowed through his head at the age of 4. Despite being periodically dissuaded by his parents, he composed and studied piano throughout his childhood and presented his compositions in school as an adolescent.

During the early 40s, Hovhaness worked as organist at the St. James Armenian Church in Watertown, Massachusetts and came to feel deeply connected with Armenian music and culture that he had been exposed to as a child, particularly the work of Komitas Vardapet whom he admired intensely. When Hovhaness was admitted to master classes at Tanglewood, Massachusetts in 1942, the lack of understanding he encountered from Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein caused him to leave abruptly. That experience combined with criticism from his early teacher Roger Sessions or a storage problem or some combination of them caused him to methodically burn hundreds of his early works.

Hovhaness was tall, gangly, sometimes taciturn, and had a distinctive loping gate. He was married three times times during the 30s and 40s (ultimately marrying six times in total) and formed close bonds with a small circle of spiritually-minded intellectuals and artists including Yenovk Der Hagopian (through whom Hovhaness began correspondence with the painter Arshile Gorky), Hyman Bloom, and Hermon di Giovanni (nee Hermolaus Ionides) whom Hovhaness called his "spiritual guide," and thinking of Hindu notions of reincarnation, encouraged Hovhaness to continue to develop the Armenianness of his music. In the mid-40s, Hovhaness taught and composed prolifically, strongly under the influence of Armenian music and poetry. His work was championed by John Cage, Lou Harrison, and Henry Cowell, and he received the first of three commissions from the dancer Martha Graham. Support from the Armenian-American musician sisters Maro and Anahid Ajemian and record producer George Avakian lead to recordings of Hovhaness's work for MGM, Mercury, and Moses Asch's (pre-Folkways) Disc labels in the late 40s. In 1947 he joined the faculty at the New England Conservatory, where he taught, among others, saxophonists Sam Rivers and Gigi Gryce before relocating to New York City in 1951 at the age of 40 to compose full-time.

The guitarist Vonig Hovsepian later recalled that when Hovhaness attended a Village club gig by Thelonious Monk, "[We] were standing at the bar [...] Hovhaness had his ever-present pen and manuscript pad and was writing furiously. [...] 'What is he doing?' The first set finished. Hovhaness's Lincolnesque figure was still swaying to and fro. 'Hm-m-m. Very interesting.' He had written down the notes Monk had played. Unbelievable!"

Hovhaness received a wave of commissions, awards, and honors during the late 40s and early 50s, culminating in the commission of a symphonic work by Leopold Stokowski that was titled Mysterious Mountain, debuted in Houston, and recorded for RCA Victor. It was immensely popular and solidified Hovhaness's place as one of the influential American composers of the 20th century. In 1959-60, he traveled to India and Japan on Fulbright and Rockefeller grants. In 1963, he launched his own Poseidon record label that ran through for over a decade. In 1964, his health failing, Hovhaness was treated by Harold J. Reilly, a disciple of the clairvoyant and "father of holistic medicine" Edgar Cayce. Hovhaness's health was restored, and he continued to work prolifically for orchestras and conductors at the highest international level for another 30 years. He was inducted to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1977. He settled in Seattle and married the soprano Hinako Fujihara with whom he spent the last 23 years of his life. All of his work was characterized by an obsessive, at times grandiose, and always dignified questioning of the relationship between sound, memory, and the Eternal from his own earth-bound standpoint.
He died June 21, 2000.

On the occasions of a 1998 Hovahaness birthday radio broadcast in Princeton, New Jersey Shoghere Markanian was asked by Marvin Rosen show she felt Hovhaness would the judged in the future. She replied:
"That's a powerful question. He considers himself to be a cosmic composer. He feels his music is divinely inspired. I would say he will be known as a pioneer in fusing the East and West extensively and exclusively culminating in what is universally recognized as the 'Hovhaness sound.'"


released January 5, 2022

NOTE: Due to the fragility of the media of the original discs, there are flaws including occasional skipped grooves on several of them that we have been unable to eradicate during restoration of the sound. We believe that the historical importance and uniqueness (many of these pieces never having been recorded otherwise or else in radically different form) of the material permits us to present the recordings even with these audible defects.

1 likely recorded in Providence, RI ca. 1949
2, 5, 9, 12, 14, 17 recorded for the television documentary Assignment India, broadcast in color by NBC on Thanksgiving day, Nov. 24 1955.
3, 18, 21 recorded by Deryck Waring at 37 E. 49th St. NYC. Track 18 was made on Aug. 26, 1955
4 recorded in New York City for the Chamber Music Time radio program on March 16, 1954
6, 15, 16, 18 recorded by Mary Howard at 47 E. 49th St. NYC (Track 6 lacks its first 45 seconds.)
7 & 8 recorded by C.W. French's Trans Radio studio in Boston, MA
10 & 11 recorded at WILL University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
13 recorded live at 20th Century Music Hall by Mary Howard in Nov. 1953. (It lacks its first 60 seconds.)
19 recorded live at Carnegie Hall Feb. 22, 1954
20 recorded in October 1955 in Houston, TX for the NBC television documentary program Wide Wide World
22 recorded Oct 1991 live on WNYC on John Schaefer's Around New York program
23 recorded ca. 1971 for WNCN

Transfers, restoration, and notes by Ian Nagoski
Research by Harout Arakelian and Ian Nagoski
Impossible without the generosity of Kris and Shant Markanian
Cover photo from Ararat Quarterly, Autumn 1977 Vol 18 Issue 4


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