"For everyone's pleasure -- and indeed Hovhaness' work is not hard for everyone to like -- the high quality of this music, the purity of its inspiration, is evidenced by the extreme beauty of its melodic material (which is original material, not collected folklore), and in the perfect sweetness of taste that it leaves in the mouth. There is no vulgarity in it, nothing meretricious, silly, easy, or of low intent. It brings delight to the ear and pleasure to the thought. For all its auditory complexity -- for ornateness is of its essence -- it is utterly simple in feeling, pure in spirit, and high-minded."
-Virgil Thompson, New York Herald Tribune, Feb. 8, 1947
"Nature is my great inspiration. I feel nature is, one might say, the outer clothing of God if one can call the force of nature God."
-Alan Hovhaness, interview with Charles Amirkhanian, Oct. 1975
This album is a companion to a Canary album derived from private recordings made by Alan Hovhaness from the same period (Opening a Window to Cosmic Love canary-records.bandcamp.com/album/opening-a-window-to-cosmic-love-private-acetate-discs-ca-1946-55
). The recordings presented here were commercially released but have remained orphaned and largely unreissued for nearly 70 years. While Hovhaness's reputation remains tied at present largely to his orchestral works produced from the mid-1950s through the 1980s, the small-scale material that he generated early in his career demonstrates a composer well worth reconsideration by a generation interested in American Minimalism and "world music," many of whom might not have easy access to these recordings, which, in many cases, could be considered the definitive recordings of some of his seminal compositions.
Alan Hovhaness (b. Alan Vaness Chakmakjian, Somerville, MA, March 8, 1911; d. June 21, 2000) struggled for decades, working as an organist in Watertown, Massachusetts, and as a teacher at the Boston Conservatory, before being taken seriously as a composer around 1947 by the brilliant pianist Maro Ajemian (b. 1921; d. 1978) who first presented his music to a receptive audience and advocated for him. Through the concerts and recordings that she and her cohorts presented, he was finally able to earn a living as a composer full-time starting in 1951 when he was 40 years old. From that point forward, he worked relentlessly, taking commissions nearly as fast as they came.
Leopold Stokowski performed his first symphony in 1947 to a limited audience. When Stokowski recorded his second symphony in 1955, the work for which he remains best known, for RCA Records, Hovhaness found his reputation solidified. From that point forward, he produced and produced and produced material for an onslaught of commissions. (The Flowering Peach material presented here was music for a 1954 Clifford Odets play, for instance.) He took on all comers, and the material he produced from the 1960s through the '80s earned him a solid reputation at the time but has been retroactively thought of as relevant only to its time and place, as "pro forma," and of marginal contemporary interest to the detriment of the highly original and exceptionally moving work he produced in his early years.
For dumb business reasons, many of the best of his early recordings have gone unreissued for over half a century. We hope that this cross-section of some of them goes some way toward correcting that for contemporary listeners.