HOVHANNES: Symphony No. 2, “Mysterious Mountain”

Alan Hovhaness: Symphony No. 2, “Mysterious Mountain”

Program Notes

“Mysterious Mountain” is probably Alan Hovhaness’ most popular and often-performed orchestral work. It was commissioned by Leopold Stokowski, for his first concert as music director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra in 1955, a performance that was televised nationwide. (Stokowski had begun to champion the music of Hovhaness during the 1940s, and continued to do so for the rest of his life.) This work by the erstwhile obscure composer achieved further widespread exposure through an RCA Victor recording released in 1958, featuring a performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Fritz Reiner. This recording—the first of many—has remained available in one medium or another almost without interruption for more than 50 years. All these factors have contributed to its popularity, but not to be discounted is the character of the work itself: euphonious, serene, and contemplative throughout most of its 20-minute duration.

The Symphony No. 2 was originally entitled, simply, “Mysterious Mountain.” But around 1970, in an effort to provide some organization to his enormous and disparate body of work, Hovhaness added a number of his major orchestral works to his roster of symphonies, which eventually reached No. 67 (although their chronology remains inconsistent, to say the least). It was at this time that “Mysterious Mountain” became the subtitle of Symphony No. 2. One of the reasons for the confused chronology of Hovhaness’ works is the fact that he often re-purposed material from earlier works—modified or not—into later compositions. For example, the animated fugato in the second movement of the work at hand originally appeared in more primitive form in his String Quartet No. 1, composed in 1936.

Hovhaness intended his music to evoke spiritual states that transcended the concerns of mundane life. He accomplished this through an ever-evolving musical style that embraced the modal polyphony associated with the Renaissance, rich passages of hymnlike chorales, and religious incantations and dancelike styles of his ancestral Armenia. As time went on, he was to absorb elements of the musical styles of India, Japan, and Korea into his language. “Mysterious Mountain” is unusual among Hovhaness’ works in that Eastern musical references are largely absent from it. Mountains were a source of both awe and inspiration for Hovhaness: They seemed to suggest to him the immensity of the universe, and this impression was suggested in the titles of many of his works. Growing up in New England, he had ready access to mountain ranges, which he loved to explore; and he spent the last decades of his life among the mountains of Washington State.

The Symphony No. 2, “Mysterious Mountain,” comprises three movements. The first, Andante con moto, features rich, triadic, hymnlike chorales, with non-harmonic decorations played by the celesta. The overall effect is, indeed, celestial. The second movement, Double fugue: Moderato maestoso; allegro vivo, opens with a modal fugal exposition that suggests a Renaissance motet. This is followed by the exposition of an agitated subject introduced by the strings (taken, as noted above, from an early string quartet). Finally the two fugatos are combined contrapuntally in a majestic peroration. The third movement, Andante espressivo, begins quietly with a mysterious ostinato that builds gradually to a climax and then recedes. This is followed by a fervently spiritual hymn in the strings, and then, by a woodwind chorale. An ethereal passage, produced by subdivided solo strings, leads to a serene conclusion.

(Interested listeners are referred to the excellent Web site www.Hovhaness.com.)
Walter Simmons


Walter Simmons is a musicologist and critic with a particular focus on tonal American composers of the 20th century. While in his teens he maintained an ongoing correspondence with Alan Hovhaness. Simmons is the author of two books in Roman and Littlefield’s series Twentieth-Century Traditionalists, of which he is the supervising editor. Hundreds of his writings can be found on his Web site at www.Walter-Simmons.com.

© Walter Simmons 
BBC Proms Concert 2016

HOVHANESS Symphony No. 1, “Exile.” Soprano Saxophone Concerto. Armenian Rhapsodie: Nos. 1, 2, 3. Song of the Sea. Choral Anthems.

HOVHANESS Symphony No. 1, “Exile.” Concerto for Soprano Saxophone and Strings. Armenian Rhapsodies: Nos. 1, 2, 3. Song of the Sea ● Gil Rose, cond; Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Kenneth Radnofsky (sop sax); John McDonald (pn) ● BMOP/sound 1020 (67:39)

HOVHANESS From the Ends of the Earth. Elizabeth C. Patterson, cond; Gloriae Dei Cantores ● GLORIAE DEI CANTORES GDCD-052 (75:33)
Cantate Domino. Immortality. Unto Thee, O God. Ave Maria. Simple Mass. From the End of the Earth. Three Motets. Hear My Prayer, O Lord. I Will Rejoice in the Lord. Why Hast Thou Cast Us Off. The God of Glory Thundereth. O Lord God of Hosts

Back when I was a teenager, I was obsessed with the music of Alan Hovhaness, and was also uninhibited to an extent that is a bit embarrassing in retrospect. During that period, after attending a concert of the New York Philharmonic, I forced my way back to Leonard Bernstein’s dressing room, and asked him whether he ever intended to perform anything by Hovhaness: He replied, “Some of Hovhaness’s music is very, very good, and some is very, very bad.” (Somehow the first half of this quotation found its way into the program notes for the choral disc discussed here.) Well, these two recent releases certainly validate Bernstein’s statement, as, taken together, they offer us both extremes. Perhaps released in connection with the composer’s centenary in 2011, which seemed to prompt little or no acknowledgment from the major musical organizations, both are deluxe packages, with handsomely produced and elaborately annotated program booklets, and offering performances that generally exceed the norm for recordings of this composer’s music with regard to both precision and nuance.

Most standard biographies report that during the early 1940s Hovhaness destroyed “thousands” of works in a giant fire—works that were “on the wrong track” aesthetically, many of them shamelessly influenced by Sibelius. This statement has been proven to be, at best, an exaggeration. Those who have made a systematic study of the composer’s music are aware that a) much of that early music was re-used in later works—sometimes in revised form, and sometimes just as it originally appeared; b) there is no evidence to substantiate the enormous number of works claimed to have been destroyed; c) the influence of Sibelius is greatly exaggerated—even something of a “red herring”—as traces reminiscent of Sibelius are usually barely apparent, whereas evidence of banal material given shockingly simplistic treatment are readily evident.

And, while we are dealing with Hovhaness mythology, there is an anecdote that first appeared quite late in the composer’s life concerning a traumatic experience that allegedly occurred at Tanglewood during the early 1940s. Repeated in the unsigned notes accompanying the choral disc, the story goes that while a recording of Hovhaness’s “Exile Symphony” was being played, both Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein behaved quite disrespectfully, the latter running to the piano and playing “melodic minor scales,” and stating that he hates this “cheap ghetto music.” While I don’t doubt for a minute that Hovhaness’s music may have been subjected to severe criticism at Tanglewood, the anecdote itself strikes me as implausible. Not only would it have been the harmonic minor scale, which contains the interval of an augmented-second that appears in so much middle-Eastern music, but why on earth would Leonard Bernstein, a proud Jew whose “Jeremiah Symphony,” written about the same time, used that same interval, be talking about “cheap ghetto music”? I have no information as to the source of this anecdote, but it may have “morphed” somewhat over the years, perhaps for the purpose of reinforcing a particular point. If anyone reading this can provide authentication for this anecdote, I’d like to see it.

Let me note at this point that in addition to a fine essay on the composer by pianist Sahan Arzruni, the notes to the BMOP release also incorporate the transcript of a 1981 interview with the composer, conducted by Charles Amirkhanian and Dennis Russell Davies. This interview is especially valuable, as it captures aspects of Hovhaness’s personality and manner of expressing himself more vividly and with a revealing accuracy usually missing from the usual sources.

Those interested in hearing the kind of music Hovhaness composed prior to the alleged bonfire have a revealing example in the Song of the Sea, dated 1933, when the composer was 22. Scored for piano with strings, the six-minute piece is purportedly inspired by the Biblical story of the Israelites’ passage through the Red Sea. The music is very simply modal, with the piano playing mostly triads in block or arpeggiated figurations. The opening section is reminiscent of Henry Cowell’s early piano piece, Tides of Manaunaun. I do not believe that the piece resembles the music of Sibelius in the least.

Also appearing during the pre-bonfire period was the Symphony No. 1, “Exile,” dedicated to the Armenian victims of massacre by the Turks. Those intrigued by the fact that Hovhaness’s list of works includes 67 entitled “symphonies” will no doubt want to hear the one designated No. 1. Here its composition date of 1937 is misleading, as the work went through several subsequent revisions, which entailed the replacement of the original scherzo with an entirely different movement. Assuming that the piece we are hearing retains some of the original 1937 music, one is struck far more by its composer’s familiar fingerprints than by any resemblance to Sibelius. This was Hovhaness’s first major orchestral work to be performed—a broadcast performance by the BBC in 1939. Three years later it was performed by Stokowski and the NBC Symphony—the first performance by a major American orchestra of a work by the composer. From this relatively early date, the symphony clearly reflects a predilection for melodies and arabesques redolent of Middle-Eastern-flavored modes; the work also exhibits the remarkably simplistic, repetitious treatment of materials characteristic of his earlier music. In his notes, Arzruni states, “His art is simple, not simplistic.” This, I’m afraid, is a subject for debate, and would require a clearly defined distinction between those two concepts. However, there can be little debate about the quality of this performance. Of the several available recorded performances, this is clearly the most polished.

During the early 1940s, dissatisfied with the direction his work was taking, and influenced by a number of mentors outside the world of music, Hovhaness decided to turn to his Armenian roots as the source of a deeper and more individual creative voice, somewhat analogous to Ernest Bloch’s decision to capture “the Jewish soul” in his music. Among his first efforts in this vein were three pieces entitled “Armenian Rhapsodies.” The composer was always at pains to point out that these three were his only pieces to incorporate actual Armenian melodic material, taken from songs, dances, and liturgical chants. Though these fledgling efforts were soon surpassed by more elaborate compositions based on original, though Armenian-related, material, these three rhapsodies display a sense of atmosphere and a fresh approach to modal polyphony that was not present in his earlier work. Again superseding previous recorded performances, the three Armenian Rhapsodies are the most rewarding pieces on this disc. However, the producer wisely decided to disperse them in alternation with other works on the program, rather than present them in succession, as they are very similar to each other.

Several additional phases of Hovhaness’s stylistic evolution took place over the following years, during which he expanded his interests to include early Christian polyphony, followed by aspects of the music of India, then of Japan, and then of Korea, all of which were incorporated into his language. Then, from the early 1970s until the early 1990s, when he essentially stopped composing, he entered a final phase, which has been called “neo-romantic” by some, but “primitive” by me. These works, extremely simple in texture and structure, and often very slow in tempo and long in duration, retain the longstanding fondness for Middle-Eastern-inflected melody and triadic harmony, but incorporate a highly idiosyncratic form of chromaticism as well, with generous use of half-diminished-seventh chords used in an unorthodox, non-functional manner. Many commentators have speculated that this final phase represents a return to his pre-Armenian style. I do not share that view, as I find distinct differences between the works from these two corners of his compositional career.

Hovhaness’s Concerto for Soprano Saxophone and Strings was composed in 1980. As enthusiasts are well aware, the works that Hovhaness called “symphonies” have nothing in common with the formal symphonies of, say, Brahms, except that they are relatively long works for orchestra. Similarly, the works that he called “concertos” have nothing in common with the romantic virtuoso vehicle other than their featuring a solo instrument along with an ensemble—and even that isn’t always the case! This 17-minute work in three movements is generally representative of the kind of music he was composing at the time, with one major exception. The first movement begins in a triadic, hymnlike vein. When the saxophone enters, the harmony becomes chromatic, with the strange, half-diminished-seventh chords, while the melody is still largely diatonic. This is followed by a vigorous fugato in the strings. The second movement is truly unlike anything I have ever heard by this composer. It begins with something like a waltz, exceedingly lightweight in character, almost suggesting popular music of the early 20th century. (Somewhat like Paul Snook, more conversant with this genre, could probably characterize it more precisely.) A “Trio” section follows, now along the lines of a diatonic jig in a major key, while maintaining the light-classical flavor. Unlike the standard scherzo, the waltz idea does not return. In its utter insipidity, the movement would be downright revolting, if it weren’t so bizarre and out-of –character for the composer, which makes it a notable curiosity. The third movement returns to the hymnlike tone of the opening, after which the saxophone enters with a simple, diatonic, major-key melody, accompanied by quarter-note pizzicati in a manner suggesting Satie. There is a polyphonic interlude for the strings, followed by an incantation by the saxophone, accompanied by more quarter-note pizzicati. The piece concludes strangely, in a manner that can almost be called flippant.

Throughout his composing career Hovhaness composed short choral anthems on sacred texts. These have been among his most consistently popular and widely performed compositions, and are mainstays of many church choirs. They generally combine relatively simple Renaissance-style polyphony with cantorial melodic lines inflected by Middle-Eastern modes. As many of them are quite lovely and inspirational in effect, I have often wondered why, what with the plethora of Hovhaness recordings that have appeared over the years, little attention has been turned toward this aspect of his output. Now the widely admired choir, Gloriae Dei Cantores, under its conductor Elizabeth C. Patterson, have addressed this neglect with a selection of such compositions. Most are accompanied by organ only; others call for small instrumental ensembles. As with the BMOP release, I would like to have had a hand in the programming decisions, as the selections seem to have been chosen with no effort to separate the wheat from the chaff. Now I suppose some may object, asserting that one man’s chaff is another’s wheat. I’m not so sure, but am willing to let consumers decide for themselves. Again Leonard Bernstein’s words reverberate: Some of these pieces are extraordinarily moving, such as “Ave Maria”from the lovely Triptych, The God of Glory ThunderethFrom the End of the EarthUnto Thee, O God, and Why Hast Thou Cast Us Off. (This is not especially coincidental, as all were composed during the 1950s, generally acknowledged to be the composer’s strongest period.) On the other hand, some are banal in the extreme, such as the Simple Mass, composed in 1975 according to the principles enunciated by Pope John XXIII. And many are just routine, and could have been penned by any number of composers.

The performances are carefully shaped, with much attention to intonation, balance, and nuances of phrasing. The disc is a worthy contribution to the Hovhaness discography, but one rues the missed opportunity of a chorus of this stature focusing its attention on the composer’s most inspired works within this genre.

HANSON Syms. No. 4 & 5. Dies Natalis. Elegy. Songs from “Drum Taps.” THOMPSON Testament of Freedom. LEOFFLER Memories of my Childhood. HOVHANESS Sym. No. 3. HINDEMITH Sym. in E-flat. HARTMANN Sym. No. 2. STRAVINSKY Sym. In C. HARRIS Sym. No. 7.

HANSON Symphonies: No. 4, “Requiem.” No. 5, “Sinfonia Sacra.” Dies Natalis. Elegy in Memory of Serge Koussevitzky ● Gerard Schwarz, cond; Seattle SO ● NAXOS 8.559703 (69:44)

HANSON Symphony No. 4, “Requiem.” Songs from “Drum Taps.”1 THOMPSON Testament of Freedom. LOEFFLER Memories of my Childhood (Life in a Russian Village) ● Howard Hanson, cond; Eastman-Rochester SO; Eastman School of Music Ch1 ● PRISTINE PASC-292 (72:17)

HANSON Symphony No. 4, “Requiem.” HOVHANESS Symphony No. 3. HINDEMITH Symphony in E-flat. HARTMANN Symphony No. 2, “Adagio.” STRAVINSKY Symphony in C. HARRIS Symphony No. 7 (original version) ● Leopold Stokowski, cond; NBC SO; Symphony of the Air; W. German Radio O, Cologne; St. Louis SO ● GUILD GHCD-2379/80 (2 CDs; 2:30) Live: 1/2/1944 10/14/1956; 2/28/1943; 5/25/1955; 2/21/1943; 1/9/1955

As alert discophiles are probably aware, Naxos has been reissuing Gerard Schwarz’s excellent comprehensive survey of the orchestral (and some choral) music of Howard Hanson, mostly with the Seattle Symphony. These recordings were originally released during the early 1990s by Delos, although Naxos is shuffling around the contents for their reissues. Readers may refer to back-issues (or to my Web site at www.Walter-Simmons.com) for my comments on the original Delos releases.

So here we have a confluence of three different recorded performances of Hanson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Fourth Symphony, each of them going back some time. Stokowski’s is the earliest, dating from 1944, the year after it was composed, and just one month after its premiere by the Boston Symphony, under the composer’s direction; Hanson’s own recording was originally released on Mercury in 1953; and Schwarz’s was initially released in 1990. The Fourth, subtitled “Requiem,” was written in memory of the composer’s father, and was his own favorite among his symphonies. Because Hanson was not really a “natural symphonist,” most of his works in that genre (the main exception being No. 1, “Nordic,” which—though relatively uncomplicated—is quite successful in its symphonic pretentions) are best viewed more as emotional tone poems—especially their more problematic portions. Much of Hanson’s “symphonic” writing amounts to episodic successions of mood-states that move uneasily from one to the next. In the Fourth Symphony, the inner movements—a slow movement followed by a scherzo—are straightforward, easy to accept, and clear enough in their interpretive requirements. But the outer movements have major structural problems—although, I must emphasize, many passages, taken on their own terms, offer plenty of sensuous appeal. Schwarz seems to have realized this and took relatively broad tempos in the opening and closing movements, perhaps in the hope that more “breathing room” might help to establish them more securely as formal entities. Though I rarely indulge in duration comparisons among performances, in this case it is somewhat revealing: Hanson takes 7:17 for his first movement, while Stokowski takes 6:55; Schwarz takes 9:36. For the second movement Hanson takes 4:33, Stokowski 4:38, and Schwarz 5:43. (It is worth noting that Stokowski, whose reputation would have him “milking” a movement like this, instead presses forward without such indulgence, as does Hanson himself.) For the scherzo, Hanson takes 2:38, Stokowski 2:10, and Schwarz 2:38. For the finale, Hanson takes 6:37, Stokowski 6:15 and Schwarz 7:48. So, interestingly enough, Stokowski’s tempos are much closer to Hanson’s own. The latter is, in toto, 21:20; Stokowski’s is 20:13, while Schwarz’s comes in at 25:45. Do Schwarz’s slower tempos result in a more convincing interpretation? No, I don’t think so—the awkwardness of the outer movements is apparent at any tempo. Of course Schwarz comes out way ahead with regard to sonority—the Stokowski broadcast from Studio 8H sounds pretty terrible. But Hanson’s own recording, as remastered by Andrew Rose, offers some of the best 1950s monaural sound I’ve ever heard. For those favorably disposed to the remainder of the Hanson-conducted program, this re-issue is worth considering.

The Naxos disc also includes Hanson’s Fifth Symphony—a single movement of 15 minutes duration. The composer stated that the work, subtitled “Sinfonia Sacra” and composed in 1954, was inspired by the story of Christ’s resurrection. The Fifth makes even less of a pretense at symphonic form or rhetoric than its predecessor, and is even more blatantly a succession of mood states. Because the work does not develop organically, it conveys a sense of accompanimental music with nothing to accompany. The content is characteristic of the composer’s other works from this period, opening with a stern, solemn tone reminiscent of Sibelius, moving on to a passage of modal polyphony suggestive of spiritual matters, finally erupting agitatedly with characteristic climbing sequences of brilliantly orchestrated ostinatos, before subsiding in a solemn chorale. Again, the music has some passages that are heartfelt and others that are undeniably exciting, but it is just not truly “symphonic.”

Just a couple of years later, in 1956, Hanson composed his Elegy in Memory of Serge Koussevitzky, a conductor who had championed his music as he had that of so many other American composers of the period. It is a 13-minute work with much the same tone and language as the Fifth Symphony. I have always considered it one of the composer’s least consequential pieces, rather slow to take flight and ultimately delivering little of notable substance.

Dies Natalis was composed in 1967, and was one of Hanson’s more successful late works. It consists of an introduction, a Lutheran chorale, seven variations, and a finale. After an overly protracted timpani solo, the introductory melody appears, a characteristically throbbing idea that harks back to some of the composer’s most endearing moments. The chorale appears in much of Hanson’s music, most notably the opening motif of the opera Merry Mount, though it appears there in the Dorian mode and here in the Ionian. The variations are engaging and brief, while the finale returns to the spirit and material of the introduction.

Gerard Schwarz leads sympathetic, committed, and richly refined performances of all these works. Listeners who passed them by when they were first issued, or perhaps were not interested in Hanson at the time, or maybe are still awaiting the opportunity to get acquainted with his work are encouraged to sample one of these budget-priced Naxos releases.

(Before concluding the Naxos portion of this review, I should mention one other Hanson release of significance that was not conducted by Schwarz, but by the late Kenneth Schermerhorn, leading the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. With its fine performance of the “Nordic” Symphony, the orchestral suite from the opera Merry Mount, and the little-known but worthy tone-poem Pan and the Priest, it is my first choice as a budget-priced introduction to the music of Hanson.)

Before moving on from Hanson, some comments on the Songs from “Drum Taps” are in order. This setting of three Whitman poems for baritone solo, chorus, and orchestra, was composed in 1935, just a couple of years after Merry Mount, and whiffs of that work may be heard here. It is a stirring, but not terribly profound setting of the poems—especially the first and third—in which the musical interpretation is limited largely to capturing the martial spirit with snare-drum ostinatos and the like. The choral writing is mostly unison, with some two-voice counterpoint. The second movement, “By the bivouac’s fitful flame,” is a baritone solo, and is quite beautiful. Strains of the love music from Merry Mount appear in this movement and the final one, but the reason for their citation is not apparent to me. Composed between Hanson’s Second and Third Symphonies, this is not one of his greatest works, but one that the composer’s admirers may well feel is worthy of attention nevertheless. The performance here is clearly student-level, but adequate.

Somewhat comparable aesthetically to Hanson’s “Drum Taps” settings is Randall Thompson’s Testament of Freedom, composed in 1943. The music is typical of Thompson’s perennially popular choral style—hearty, diatonic, direct and accessible, with a stirring quality capable of reaching a large number of people. It is clearly a patriotic work whose text, taken from the words of Thomas Jefferson, was applied to the nation’s efforts to overcome the despotism besieging Europe at the time. From today’s perspective, the musical setting of Jefferson’s words seems rather naïve and many listeners may find it hard to accept at face value; but those who can make the necessary allowances may find the work to be stirring and inspirational. The performance does it justice, for the most part.

Charles Martin Loeffler (1861-1935) was a cosmopolitan composer and violinist who spent the early years of his life on the move, including several years in Ukraine. Although he was born in Germany, he came to despise the country, and preferred to describe his nationality as “Alsatian.” A meticulous composer whose work shows great sensitivity, Loeffler’s sensibility was decidedly French. He moved to the United States in 1881, and was for many years a member of the violin section of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. His orchestral piece, A Pagan Poem, is one of the greatest American works from the turn of the 20th century, and was championed (and recorded) by Stokowski. Though perhaps not as striking as that work, the 12-minute Memories of Childhood is an exquisitely wrought piece that treats recognizably Russian folk and religious themes within a highly romanticized vein of Impressionism. The Eastman performance under Hanson’s direction is excellent.

As noted earlier, Andrew Rose’s remastering eliminates many of the shortcomings that would ordinarily detract from the experience of listening to these 60-year-old recordings. Although no program notes of any kind are included with the package, they and all the sung texts are readily accessible on Pristine’s Web site.

Finally returning to the remainder of Stokowski’s 2-CD set: One of the interesting items is the world premiere performance of Alan Hovhaness’s Symphony No. 3. Stokowski conducted a great deal of Hovhaness during his long conducting career, including the premiere of the perennially popular Mysterious Mountain (subsequently labeled Symphony No. 2). He was sympathetic and intuitively attuned to the composer’s unique aesthetic, although he did recoil from the “sliding tones” that Hovhaness adopted from Korean music during the late 1960s. The Third Symphony was composed the year after Mysterious Mountain, with which it shares a fair amount in common, although the later work has more overt Armenian influence. Hovhaness intended it to be a homage to the Classical style, as epitomized by Mozart and Haydn, so he attempted to create a fusion of that style with his own characteristic approach. Hence the work may be regarded as Hovhaness’s take on neo-classicism. The result follows the blueprint of sonata allegro form, but lacks the sense of dialectical opposition from which the form derives its energy. Thematic development is rudimentary, and largely limited to melodic sequences; in that regard it is simpler than a corresponding movement by Haydn. I should mention that a more modern recording of this work was released by Soundset in 1996, featuring a performance by the orchestra of the Korean Broadcasting System, led by the late Georgian conductor Vakhtang Jordania. This recording represents a significant improvement over the Stokowski with regard to sound quality and orchestral sonority. However, as all who are familiar with Hovhaness’s performances of his own works know, he almost always favored vigorous and rather volatile readings of his works. The spiritual serenity for which he and his music became known has been exaggerated in the minds of both performers and listeners. Although much of his music did aim for an almost mystical sense of rapture, his own performances as well as his commentaries about his music make very clear that many of his works benefit from a brusque sort of approach, and even at times embraced a sort of cosmic rage. Stokowski seemed to understand this, and provided a hearty, vigorous reading. Unfortunately, Jordania’s approach is phlegmatic and dull by comparison, draining whatever energy is inherent in the work.

One observation that arises from these and other recently-released recordings of vintage Stokowski live performances is just how simplistic and distorted is the general impression of the conductor as an ultra-romantic who strove for opulent, luxuriant sonorities, which he applied to everything he conducted. A recent reissue in this series included Copland’s “Short Symphony,” which—like the Stravinsky and Hindemith works included here—benefit from rhythmic precision and clarity of texture, which Stokowski provided in full measure, while avoiding euphonious sonorities. These performances have nothing of the “Stokowski sound,” but present the works in question in the most favorable light.

While likely unintentional, this set offers a most interesting point for comparison. The international figure-heads of neo-classicism, a musical style that achieved considerable prominence during the middle third of the 20th century, were Igor Stravinsky and Paul Hindemith, although from today’s perspective the influence of the former has proven to be more enduring than that of the latter. But from the 1920s through the 1940s their importance was somewhat comparable, although the evolution of their compositional styles followed very different paths, largely attributable to their differences in temperament and personality. So here we have two major symphonies, each of which embodies its composer’s notion of neo-classicism, arriving at strikingly different results: Stravinsky’s Symphony in C, composed in 1940 and performed here by Stokowski in 1943; and Hindemith’s Symphony in E-flat, also composed in 1940 (the year of the composer’s immigration to the United States and his appointment to the faculty of Yale University) and performed here by Stokowski in 1943.

Stravinsky’s Symphony in C exemplifies the approach that has become most representative of neo-classicism, as it is understood today. For me the persona that emerges from much—though not all—of Stravinsky’s neo-classical works is that of one who is unable to engage with serious feelings and prefers a stance of detached mockery. The Symphony in C is one of those works in which this quality is most apparent, and I don’t find it at all attractive. Although, as with nearly all the performances on this set, the orchestral playing is quite rough and scrappy, Stokowski approaches the work with a brusque, restless impatience that really makes the best case for it. This is especially apparent when comparing this performance with a more polished, recent recording, such as Colin Davis’s with the London Symphony Orchestra. Davis aims for a kind of gracefulness, delicacy, and charm that highlights the work’s precious superficiality, which I find revolting.

If Stravinsky’s neo-classicism emphasized emotional restraint and detached expression, clear, transparent textures, and an avoidance of bombast, Hindemith’s neo-classicism was largely concerned with an avoidance of sentimentality and a return to more abstract forms and compositional procedures, as opposed to such predecessors as Strauss and Mahler. But if Stravinsky’s approach was almost feminine in the lightness and clarity of its textures, Hindemith’s was unmistakably masculine in its lumbering accumulation of aggressive energy. The Symphony in E-flat is one of his strongest major works, and is quintessential in representing its composer’s voice at its most distinctive. Stokowski’s performance sounds a little hesitant in his approach to a work that—like the Stravinsky—was still relatively new. Two later recorded performances—one conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, the other by Leonard Bernstein—dive in heartily, producing that characteristically Hindemithian quality of a truck careening down a steep incline, barely under control.    Unfortunately, Stokowski’s hesitancy causes his rendition to sound somewhat dry and ponderous, even sagging at times. But finally he pulls things together to produce a vigorous, triumphant finale. For some reason this particular performance enjoys better sound quality than most of the other recordings included here.

Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905-1963), though probably the least well-known composer represented on this set, was an important figure in German music from the end of World War II until the ascendency of Stockhausen and the Darmstadt group—an admittedly short period. He was exceedingly self-critical, discarding many of his works, and revising others repeatedly. Hartman’s Second Symphony, subtitled, “Adagio,” was completed as a one-movement work of 15 minutes duration in 1946, although it was based on an earlier work, subsequently discarded. Ultimately Hartmann completed eight symphonies, and his aesthetic and musical language may be said to place him as a link in the chain following Hindemith, although he actually studied with Webern. The Second Symphony is grim, gray, and very serious, severe and intense, highly dissonant but not atonal. One of the work’s most important themes is introduced in an extended saxophone solo. Although it offers little “entertainment value,” it is a very impressive work—possibly the most impressive of the entire set.

Finally we come to the Symphony No. 7 of Roy Harris—in its original version. The work was completed in 1952, and this performance was given in early 1955. Later that year the composer subjected the symphony to substantial revisions, and it achieved some success in this form. The performance offered here represents the last time the work was presented in its original form, and is the only surviving recording of that version. So for those reasons this rendition holds some historical importance. With its single-movement structure and slowly evolving form, the Seventh shares much in common with the far better-known Third Symphony. It is also typical in its evocation of rural America, and includes some quasi-cowboy music. Stokowski imbues the work with a sense of vitality and direction often missing from performances of Harris’s music, despite the fact that the St. Louis Symphony was not an ensemble of the first rank at the time, and some of the high violin writing taxes the players beyond their capacity. This is not the place to go into a detailed comparison of the two versions of the work; I have no idea what motives underlay Harris’s decision to revise it, as it was reportedly successful in its initial performances. I will simply note that a strong case could be made for the symphony in this original version. Listeners with a serious interest in the music of Roy Harris will definitely want to acquaint themselves with this rendition, and reach their own conclusions.

As noted earlier, Andrew Rose’s remastering eliminates many of the shortcomings that would ordinarily detract from the experience of listening to these 60-year-old recordings. Although no program notes of any kind are included with the package, they and all the sung texts are readily accessible on Pristine’s Web site.

Finally returning to the remainder of Stokowski’s 2-CD set: One of the interesting items is the world premiere performance of Alan Hovhaness’s Symphony No. 3. Stokowski conducted a great deal of Hovhaness during his long conducting career, including the premiere of the perennially popular Mysterious Mountain (subsequently labeled Symphony No. 2). He was sympathetic and intuitively attuned to the composer’s unique aesthetic, although he did recoil from the “sliding tones” that Hovhaness adopted from Korean music during the late 1960s. The Third Symphony was composed the year after Mysterious Mountain, with which it shares a fair amount in common, although the later work has more overt Armenian influence. Hovhaness intended it to be a homage to the Classical style, as epitomized by Mozart and Haydn, so he attempted to create a fusion of that style with his own characteristic approach. Hence the work may be regarded as Hovhaness’s take on neo-classicism. The result follows the blueprint of sonata allegro form, but lacks the sense of dialectical opposition from which the form derives its energy. Thematic development is rudimentary, and largely limited to melodic sequences; in that regard it is simpler than a corresponding movement by Haydn. I should mention that a more modern recording of this work was released by Soundset in 1996, featuring a performance by the orchestra of the Korean Broadcasting System, led by the late Georgian conductor Vakhtang Jordania. This recording represents a significant improvement over the Stokowski with regard to sound quality and orchestral sonority. However, as all who are familiar with Hovhaness’s performances of his own works know, he almost always favored vigorous and rather volatile readings of his works. The spiritual serenity for which he and his music became known has been exaggerated in the minds of both performers and listeners. Although much of his music did aim for an almost mystical sense of rapture, his own performances as well as his commentaries about his music make very clear that many of his works benefit from a brusque sort of approach, and even at times embraced a sort of cosmic rage. Stokowski seemed to understand this, and provided a hearty, vigorous reading. Unfortunately, Jordania’s approach is phlegmatic and dull by comparison, draining whatever energy is inherent in the work.

One observation that arises from these and other recently-released recordings of vintage Stokowski live performances is just how simplistic and distorted is the general impression of the conductor as an ultra-romantic who strove for opulent, luxuriant sonorities, which he applied to everything he conducted. A recent reissue in this series included Copland’s “Short Symphony,” which—like the Stravinsky and Hindemith works included here—benefit from rhythmic precision and clarity of texture, which Stokowski provided in full measure, while avoiding euphonious sonorities. These performances have nothing of the “Stokowski sound,” but present the works in question in the most favorable light.

While likely unintentional, this set offers a most interesting point for comparison. The international figure-heads of neo-classicism, a musical style that achieved considerable prominence during the middle third of the 20th century, were Igor Stravinsky and Paul Hindemith, although from today’s perspective the influence of the former has proven to be more enduring than that of the latter. But from the 1920s through the 1940s their importance was somewhat comparable, although the evolution of their compositional styles followed very different paths, largely attributable to their differences in temperament and personality. So here we have two major symphonies, each of which embodies its composer’s notion of neo-classicism, arriving at strikingly different results: Stravinsky’s Symphony in C, composed in 1940 and performed here by Stokowski in 1943; and Hindemith’s Symphony in E-flat, also composed in 1940 (the year of the composer’s immigration to the United States and his appointment to the faculty of Yale University) and performed here by Stokowski in 1943.

Stravinsky’s Symphony in C exemplifies the approach that has become most representative of neo-classicism, as it is understood today. For me the persona that emerges from much—though not all—of Stravinsky’s neo-classical works is that of one who is unable to engage with serious feelings and prefers a stance of detached mockery. The Symphony in C is one of those works in which this quality is most apparent, and I don’t find it at all attractive. Although, as with nearly all the performances on this set, the orchestral playing is quite rough and scrappy, Stokowski approaches the work with a brusque, restless impatience that really makes the best case for it. This is especially apparent when comparing this performance with a more polished, recent recording, such as Colin Davis’s with the London Symphony Orchestra. Davis aims for a kind of gracefulness, delicacy, and charm that highlights the work’s precious superficiality, which I find revolting.

If Stravinsky’s neo-classicism emphasized emotional restraint and detached expression, clear, transparent textures, and an avoidance of bombast, Hindemith’s neo-classicism was largely concerned with an avoidance of sentimentality and a return to more abstract forms and compositional procedures, as opposed to such predecessors as Strauss and Mahler. But if Stravinsky’s approach was almost feminine in the lightness and clarity of its textures, Hindemith’s was unmistakably masculine in its lumbering accumulation of aggressive energy. The Symphony in E-flat is one of his strongest major works, and is quintessential in representing its composer’s voice at its most distinctive. Stokowski’s performance sounds a little hesitant in his approach to a work that—like the Stravinsky—was still relatively new. Two later recorded performances—one conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, the other by Leonard Bernstein—dive in heartily, producing that characteristically Hindemithian quality of a truck careening down a steep incline, barely under control.    Unfortunately, Stokowski’s hesitancy causes his rendition to sound somewhat dry and ponderous, even sagging at times. But finally he pulls things together to produce a vigorous, triumphant finale. For some reason this particular performance enjoys better sound quality than most of the other recordings included here.

Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905-1963), though probably the least well-known composer represented on this set, was an important figure in German music from the end of World War II until the ascendency of Stockhausen and the Darmstadt group—an admittedly short period. He was exceedingly self-critical, discarding many of his works, and revising others repeatedly. Hartman’s Second Symphony, subtitled, “Adagio,” was completed as a one-movement work of 15 minutes duration in 1946, although it was based on an earlier work, subsequently discarded. Ultimately Hartmann completed eight symphonies, and his aesthetic and musical language may be said to place him as a link in the chain following Hindemith, although he actually studied with Webern. The Second Symphony is grim, gray, and very serious, severe and intense, highly dissonant but not atonal. One of the work’s most important themes is introduced in an extended saxophone solo. Although it offers little “entertainment value,” it is a very impressive work—possibly the most impressive of the entire set.

Finally we come to the Symphony No. 7 of Roy Harris—in its original version. The work was completed in 1952, and this performance was given in early 1955. Later that year the composer subjected the symphony to substantial revisions, and it achieved some success in this form. The performance offered here represents the last time the work was presented in its original form, and is the only surviving recording of that version. So for those reasons this rendition holds some historical importance. With its single-movement structure and slowly evolving form, the Seventh shares much in common with the far better-known Third Symphony. It is also typical in its evocation of rural America, and includes some quasi-cowboy music. Stokowski imbues the work with a sense of vitality and direction often missing from performances of Harris’s music, despite the fact that the St. Louis Symphony was not an ensemble of the first rank at the time, and some of the high violin writing taxes the players beyond their capacity. This is not the place to go into a detailed comparison of the two versions of the work; I have no idea what motives underlay Harris’s decision to revise it, as it was reportedly successful in its initial performances. I will simply note that a strong case could be made for the symphony in this original version. Listeners with a serious interest in the music of Roy Harris will definitely want to acquaint themselves with this rendition, and reach their own conclusions.

Program Notes—ALAN HOVHANESS 75th Birthday Concert. Alleluia and Fugue. Avak the Healer. Symphony No. 50, “Mt. Saint Helens”

Program Notes

Alan Hovhaness 75th Birthday Concert
Alleluia and Fugue
Avak the Healer
Symphony No. 50, “Mt. Saint Helens”

My purpose is to create music, not for snobs, but for all people, music which is beautiful and healing, to attempt what old Chinese painters called spirit resonance in melody and sound.

Alan Hovhaness

Alan Hovhaness has pursued this ideal with a vigor matched by few contemporary composers. Functioning in his own esthetic realm, aloof from the musical mainstream and its ephemeral trends and fads, Hovhaness has produced a prodigious body of music including more than fifty symphonies and literally hundreds of other works of all dimensions, designed to be performed by an endless array of instrumental combinations from the beginning student to amateur groups and large-scale professional ensembles. Since his days as an isolated eccentric, who performed his exotic music for friends in the Boston area while living on a meager income earned as a church organist, up until today when he is regarded as one of America’s foremost composers, whose music is known throughout the world, Hovhaness has been guided by a dignity, humility, and integrity that have enabled him to make use of any available means and opportunity to pursue his own unique and uncompromising vision. As we celebrate the 75th birthday of this distinguished artist, we celebrate the independence of mind and courage of conviction that his musical life represents.

Born in Somerville, Massachusetts, in 1911, Hovhaness  gravitated toward music at a very early age, despite the absence of parental encouragement. He underwent a per­functory exposure to conventional music lessons and studied for a while at the New England Conservatory. This training, however, did not respond to his inner artistic needs as did the counsel and encouragement of two Boston mystics, the painters Hermon di Giovanno and Hyman Bloom, who urged Hovhaness to turn toward the culture of his ancestral Armenia as a source of inspiration both musical and spiritual. Renouncing the conventional approaches he had thus far followed in vain, he delved wholeheartedly into this cultural archeology and emerged with a new sense of artistic identity, having discovered a musico-philosophical realm with which he finally felt a kinship.

I was looking for a new direction that would be more expressive, and I found that direction in the church music of Armenian culture. That led me to a more ancient kind of Armenian music than ‘folk music,’ much of which has been tampered with; I also discovered the music of Komitas Vartabed, who was a very great man, and his development of Armenian music was the first influence I had.

This was the beginning of Hovhaness’ immersion in the ancient Western and Oriental musical cultures upon which he has drawn for the inspiration of most of his mature work, in a pursuit of the Confucian ideal of joining heaven and earth, East and West.

Somehow, Armenian music led me to India, when I heard the music of the dancer Uday Shankar, Ravi Shankar’s brother, who brought along a group of musicians from India. This opened up a whole new world yet seemed very much related to the different modes of Armenian music. Also Japanese music and theatre had a strong influence throughout the 1940s. The visual and musical aspects of Japanese drama, and its wonderful way of handling stories, gave me a new outlook; I wanted to create a new kind of opera from that influence. Around 1950, an Armenian from Korea played me some ancient Korean court music and I found this terribly exciting. I thought this was the most mysterious music I had ever heard. That had a strong influence.

The harmony and concept of Gagaku, which came to Japan from China in the 7th century, could readily be applied to any kind of modal melodic line. It is a very original concept and a more natural way of developing modal music than anything ever done in Europe until recently: the whole idea of rhythm versus non-rhythm, of chaos versus complete control or partial control. While I am not interested only in turning to the past, I think music should be beautiful now, just as it always was, and more beautiful, if possible.

Alleluia and Fugue (1942)

Alleluia and Fugue dates from a period when Hovhaness’ work was marked by a fascination with the sounds and techniques of early Christian music. A hauntingly archaic quality pervades both sections of the work. The hymn-like Alleluia alternates between richly chordal organum-like passages and episodes featuring a mournful modal melody with simple canonic imitation. The Fugue follows with Handelian vigor, though its Dorian modality enables it to remain evocative of the distant past.

Avak the Healer (1946)

The cantata Avak the Healer combines qualities of ancient Western music with elements of Armenian liturgical music, most clearly represented by the cantorial lines of the trumpet. The composer’s own text, sung by the soprano, is filled with simple yet strangely abstract images that convey an aura of mystical adoration. The six sections of the work maintain a continuous mood of reverence and spiritual purity, devoid of the dramatic contrasts and conflicts common to Western music of more recent centuries. The entire work remains, in the words of commentator Robert McMahan, “suspended in some mysterious halfway world between the ‘here’ of the concert music repertory and the ‘there’ of timeless ritual.”

Symphony No. 50, “Mt. Saint Helens” (1982)

Since the 1970s, Hovhaness has attempted to integrate elements inspired by the various traditions of Oriental music within a more expansive Western symphonic framework that embraces some of the richness of Romantic harmony and orchestration while retaining a purity of spiritual content. This more recent stage of development is exemplified by the Symphony No. 50, “Mt. Saint Helens.”

The following commentary is adapted from program notes by the composer:

Since 1972 I have made my home near the sublime peaks of the Cascade and Olympic mountains. Years ago in my childhood I climbed many times the mountains of
New Hampshire, and I loved those ancient worn down mountains covered by forests with rocky peaks rising above the trees.

Now I live between the young volcanic Cascade Mountains and the oceanic Olympic Mountains with rain forests, and I find inspiration from the tremendous energy of these powerful, youthful, rugged mountains.

When Mt. Saint Helens erupted on the morning of May 18, 1980, the sonic boom struck our south windows. Ashes did not come here at that time but covered land to the East all across the state of Washington into Montana. Ashes continued to travel all around the world landing lightly on our house a week later after their journey all around our planet.

On August 7, 1980 we had to travel to Walla Walla. Before we began our journey I had a feeling that Mt. Saint Helens would erupt again, but as we drove across the Cascade Mountains the beautiful summer day made me forget my premonition. Then, after a while a strange darkness came over the landscape and the sun disappeared behind weird colors. Blackness covered the sky stretching from behind the Cascade Mountains, extending from the western horizon over our heads. People were taking pictures by the roadside of this new eruption coming from the direction of Mt. Saint Helens beyond the western horizon.

Liner Notes-HOVANESS: Talin. BARLOW: The Winter’s Passed. KAUFMAN: Pastorale. FLAGELLO: Adoration. BERGER: Short Overture.

Hovhaness: Talin
Barlow: The Winter’s Passed
Kaufman: Pastorale
Flagello: Adoration
Berger: Short Overture

“My purpose is to create music, hot for snobs, but for all people, music which is beautiful and healing, to attempt what old Chinese painters called spirit resonance in melody and sound.”

Alan Hovhaness has pursued this ideal with a vigor matched by few other contemporary com­posers. Functioning in his own esthetic realm, aloof from the musical mainstream and its myriad ephemeral trends and fads, Hovhaness has produced a prodigious body of music including more than 30 symphonies and literally hundreds of other works of all dimensions, designed to be performed by an endless array of instrumental combinations from the beginning student to amateur groups and large-scale professional ensembles. Since his days as an isolated eccentric who performed his exotic music for friends in the Boston area while living on a meager income earned as a church organist up until today when he is regarded as one of America’s most original and widely performed and recorded composers, Hovhaness has been guided by a dignity, humility and integrity that have enabled him to make use of any available means and opportunity to pursue his- own unique and uncompromising vision.

Born in Somerville, Massachusetts, in 1911, Hovhaness gravitated toward music at a very early age despite the absence of parental encouragement. He underwent a perfunctory exposure to conven­tional music lessons and studied for a while at the New England Conservatory. This training, how­ever, did not answer his inner artistic needs as did the counsel and encouragement of two Boston mystics, the painters Hermon di Giovanno and Hyman Bloom, who urged Hovhaness to turn toward the culture of his ancestral Armenia as a source of inspiration both musical and spiritual. Renouncing the conventional approaches he had thus far followed in vain, he delved wholeheartedly into this cultural archaeology and emerged with a new sense of artistic identity, having discovered a musico-philosophical realm with which he finally felt a kinship.

“I was looking for a new direction that would be more expressive, and I found that direction in the church music of Armenian culture. That led me to a more ancient kind of Armenian music than ‘folk music,’ much of which has been tampered with; I also discovered the music of Komitas Vartabed, who was a kind of Armenian Bartók, before Bartók. He was a very great man, and his development of Armen­ian music was the first influence I had.”

This was the beginning of Hovhaness’ immersion in the ancient Western and Oriental musical cul­tures upon which he has drawn for the inspira­tion of most of his mature work, in a pursuit of the Confucian ideal of joining heaven and earth, East and West.

“Somehow, Armenian music led me to India, when I heard the music of the dancer Uday Shankar, Ravi Shankar’s brother, who brought along a group of musicians from India. This opened up a whole new world yet seemed very much related to the different modes of Armenian music. Also Japanese music and theatre had a strong influence throughout the 1940s. The visual and musical aspects of Japan­ese drama, and its wonderful way of handling stories, gave me a new outlook; I wanted to create a new kind of opera from that influence. Around 1950, an Armenian from Korea played me some, ancient Korean court music and I found this terribly exciting. I thought this was the most mysterious music I had ever heard. That had a strong influence.

“The harmony and concept of Gagaku, which came to Japan from China in the 7th century, could readily be applied to any kind of modal melodic line. It is a very original concept and a more natural way of developing modal music than anything ever done in Europe until recently: the whole idea of rhythm versus non-rhythm, of chaos versus complete control or partial control. But this was thousands of years in development’, whereas the European is a rushed, intellectual thing—childish and angular, without much feeling or development, so far, and rather sterile. While I am not interested only in turning to the past, I think music should be beautiful now, just as it always was, and more beautiful, if possible.”

Talin, originally composed in 1952 as a viola concerto, on commission from Ferenc Molnar, is generally regarded by authorities on Hovhaness’ music as one of his finest and most fully consum­mated works. We are therefore pleased to present this first recording of an alternate version of Talin for clarinet and strings. The composer writes:

“I made the clarinet version of Talin for Law­rence Sobol after hearing his splendid and poetic performance of a new work, Saturn, which I wrote for him in 1971. This inspired me to transfer this viola concerto to the clarinet as an alternate version. Talin was an ancient Ar­menian cathedral whose beautiful ruins are a monument of architectural wonder, grandeur, and expressiveness. The first movement, Chant, is in the style and spirit of a priest-like incanta­tion. The middle movement, Estampie, is short and dance-like, in the style of a village festi­val, and imitates the nasal sound of the ka­manche, a near-Eastern bowed string instrument. The third movement, Canzona, is religious and choral-like in spirit and sound, suggesting angelic choirs joined by earthly choirs in a spirit of grandeur creating a tower of sound like the Armenian cathedrals.”

Wayne Barlow was born in Elyria, Ohio, in 1912. He studied with Howard Hanson at the Eastman School of Music and later with Arnold Schoenberg in Los Angeles, returning to Eastman in 1937 as a member of the faculty. The following year The Winter’s Passed was introduced in Rochester, New York, and since then it has become Barlow’s best known work. Scored for oboe and strings, it is a short rhapsody based on two folk songs from South Carolina that illustrate the lovely modal quality of folk melodies from the Appalachian region. The first, which forms the opening and closing por­tions of the piece, is in the mixolydian mode while the melody of the central portion is in the dorian mode.

Jeffrey Kaufman was born in New York City in 1947 and graduated from the Manhattan School of Music where he studied with Nicolas Flagello and Ludmila Ulehla. Kaufman is fast building a reputation as a versatile musician, capable of com­posing in a wide variety of styles for diverse media, both classical and popular. In addition he produced the long-running syndicated radio series Composer’s Forum and has been active as a record producer as well. Kaufman’s Pastorale was composed in 1977, and in its few moments succeeds in creating a mood of poignant nostalgia.

When Nicolas Flagello’s fifth opera, The Judgment of St.Francis, was premiered in New York City, Winthrop Sargeant of the New Yorker termed it “the most vigorous new opera I have come across in a long time,” adding that “Flagello has shown an unmistakable and totally un­confused talent for the operatic theatre.” Completed in 1959, The Judgment of St. Francis depicts through flashbacks the incidents of self-sacrifice and renunciation that led to the rejection and ostracism of Francis of Assisi by his family and friends, culminating in a hearing before the ecclesiastical court, ordered by his father. One of the most beautiful moments of the opera is a solilo­quy sung by Francis while in the dungeon where he has been thrown by his father. Undaunted by this punishment, he sings an Adoration that expresses the infinite joy and ecstasy that he feels in the security of being with God. Flagello has transcribed this Adoration for strings and harp, giving the vocal line to the solo violin. This brief excerpt demonstrates the ardent, elegiac lyricism of which Flagello is a master.

Born in New York City in 1928, Nicolas Flagello evidenced a precocious musical talent, performing in public on the piano and undertaking musical composition before he reached adolescence. He began an intensive and long lasting apprenticeship with Vittorio Giannini and studied conducting with Dimitri Mitropoulos. Shortly after receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Man­hattan School of Music, he was awarded a Ful­bright Fellowship to study in Rome where he received a Doctorate in Superior Studies from the Academy of Santa Cecilia in 1956 under the tutelage of Ildebrando Pizzetti.

Flagello has concertized widely as piano soloist and accompanist and has toured around the world as guest conductor of many of the world’s leading’ orchestras and opera companies. As a composer Flagello has received numerous awards and com­missions, and his works have been performed and recorded extensively. In addition to six operas his catalogue of some 75 works includes two symph­onies, numerous concertos and song cycles, as well as smaller works for virtually every combination. Flagello has taught on the faculties of the Curtis Institute of Music and the Manhattan School of Music.

Jean Berger was born in Hamm, Germany, in 1909 and received a doctorate in musicology from the University of Heidelberg. In Paris during the 1930s he studied composition with Louis Aubert and became increasingly active as a choral con­ductor. After a period in Rio de Janeiro he came to the United States where he has lived and worked since 1941. Although most of Berger’s composi­tional activity has involved choral music, he has written for other media as well. The Short Overture for strings is one such example. This light-hearted work “was written with the purpose of enlarging the repertoire of string music that—while not without challenge—could yet be played and performed by an amateur group.”

HOVHANESS: Symphony No. 11, “All Men Are Brothers”. Armenian Rhapsody No. 1. Prayer for St. Gregory. Tzaikerk.

HOVHANESS: Symphony No. 11, “All Men Are Brothers”. Armenian Rhapsody No. 1. Prayer for St. GregoryTzaikerk. Royal Phil. Orch., Alan Hovhaness, cond (Symphony). Thomas Stevens, trumpet; Gretel Shanley, flute; Eudice Shapiro, violin; Crystal Chamb. Orch., Ernest Gold, cond. CRYSTAL CD 801 (compact disc)

One of the complaints voiced most often with regard to compact discs concerns playing time. While touted for their capacity for more than an hour of music, few releases from the major companies do more than merely duplicate the contents of their analog-disc counterparts. But inasmuch as the public response to CDs has been so strong, the large companies, which dominate the market almost exclusively, have little motivation to offer more. Now, as the smaller American companies begin to enter the market, some are wisely recombining the con­tents of earlier releases into new, longer programs. A case in point is this new CD from Crystal, featuring the music of Alan Hovhaness.

For the past few years, Crystal has been distributing Poseidon Society discs, which are de­voted almost exclusively to the music of Hovhaness. This CD contains the entire contents of Poseidon Society 1001, in addition to selections from Crystal’s own all-Hovhaness disc (S-800), adding up to a rather diverse but representative program of the composer’s music, lasting 53 minutes (still less than the CD’s capacity).

Hovhaness is a composer one either accepts on faith or not. His pure, simple efforts to evoke states of mystical rapture have at times resulted in works of striking originality and great spiritual beauty, flavored with a captivating exoticism; at other times he has created music of such awkward, simplistic amateurishness and numbing banality as to boggle the mind and move one to question one’s more favorable judgments. The Symphony No. 11, “All Men Are Brothers,” a 32-minute work in three movements, can be viewed both ways. Ostensibly composed during the 1960s (the chronology of Hovhaness’ output is notoriously chaotic), the sym­phony is stylistically incongruous with the composer’s other works from that decade. In fact, the work’s first appearance on discs during the early 1970s was something of a shock, because its simple-minded chromatic melodies, accompanied by a crude sort of chromatic harmony, which culminated in grandiose romantic gestures and sonorities, harked back to the kind of music the composer wrote during the 1930s—music reputed to have been destroyed in a great, self-purging fire. To the bewilderment of Hovhaness specialists, this early style was to become the basis for the painfully inflated and phlegmatic music that the composer has produced since the early ’70s. Thus, the 11th Symphony may have anticipated this stylistic change. But the work contains features from other periods as well: The long, central movement contains a striking Armenian processional, with dance-like and fugal elements, and there is much of the Christian hymn-like music that was common during the 1950s. While there are moments in which the music’s fervent intensity is convincing, much of it is strenuous but empty bombast. Listeners’ reactions to Hovhaness’ music vary greatly; readers will have to decide for themselves.

Those whose interest is engaged by the foregoing should be encouraged to learn that the digital reprocessing of the original analog tapes and their transformation into CD format have resulted in sound quality that is vastly superior to the miserable old Poseidon pressings. The performance was always fine anyway, but now its effect is greatly enhanced by the absence of background noise and a fuller, more brilliant sonority. (Hovhaness enthusiasts will have much reason for excitement if the same treatment is accorded the Symphony No. 6, “Celestial Gate,” which is probably the best piece of music to be recorded by the Poseidon Society, if not the greatest of all Hovhaness works—and, I might add, perhaps the worst of all the Poseidon pressings.)

The three other pieces are relatively modest efforts from the 1940s, representative of the composer’s mainstream Armenian style. The Prayer of St. Gregory is one of his most popular pieces—a lovely hymn for trumpet and strings that has appeared several times on recording. The Armenian Rhapsody No. 1is one of the few Hovhaness pieces to use actual folk melodies, and is no more or less effective than other pieces of this kind. Tzaikerk is an 11-minute fantasy for violin, flute, and strings—pretty, but too long and drawn out for its material. These pieces hold few difficulties for the performers, who do a perfectly acceptable job.

More interest and value will be injected into the CD scene as other small companies enter the fray. Hopefully they will follow the practice exemplified here, of longer programs, created in ways that offer alternatives to the analog disc releases. My only complaint concerning the format of this disc is that the movements of the symphony are not tracked individually.

HOVHANESS: Symphony No. 38, Op. 314.

HOVHANESS: Symphony No. 38, Op. 314. Hinako Fujihara, soprano; Northwest Cham­ber Orchestra conducted by Alan Hovhaness. PANDORA PAN 3001.

After many years of exploring in virtual obscurity a highly distinctive musical pursuit, whose uniqueness in America has been shared, only partially perhaps, by Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison, and John Cage, Alan Hovhaness and his blend of archaic Western elements with aspects from a variety of Eastern musical cultures began during the 1960’s to achieve a substantial and broadly based following. This recognition was stimulated partially by the attraction of the youth movement to the work of Indian musicians like Ravi Shankar (remember “raga rock”?). However, there has always been much in Hovhaness’ music worthy of legitimate admiration, although the haste with which he composes and his apparent absence of self-criticism have resulted in an enormous body of music, much of which shows obvious evidence of re-cycling, over-extension, redundancy, and general carelessness. Yet from each stage of Hovhaness’ evolution, key works stand out as embodying a genuinely transcendental sort of spirituality, expressed with great subtlety and sensitivity. From the 1940’s there is the fiery primordial, yet visionary Armenian splendor of works like Lousadzak, Khaldis, and Anahid, alongside which Khachaturian sounds like middle-Eastern Muzak; and there are those evocations of early-Christian ecclesiastical ecstasy, such as Alleluia and Fugue, Avak the Healer, and the Celestial Fantasy.

During the 1950’s, these two threads were woven together, and combined with influences from India and Japan, in a profusion of highly varied, original, and fully convincing compositions, from the exquisite delicacy of a miniature masterpiece like Upon Enchanted Ground to the substantial, almost symphonic impact of works like the Concertos Nos. 7 and 8 for Orchestra, Talin, and the Symphony No. 2, “Mysterious Mountain,” and Symphony No. 6, “Celestial Gate.”

During the 1960’s, what had hitherto been a relatively minor element in Hovhaness’ music—quasi-aleatoric waves of buzzing sound that rose in giant crescendos and then receded—began to assume central importance. This technique was often combined with a kind of slow, angular, canonic melodic style with sliding pitches, derived from ancient Korean music, giving birth to works that, at their best, as in Floating World-Ukiyo and Fra Angelico, evoke a spirit of wild, menacing chaotic power and frenzy, or timeless cosmic serenity.

In the 1970’s, another stage in Hovhaness’ evolution began to emerge, as he appeared to embrace certain harmonic and melodic materials that had previously seemed inimical to the diatonic purity of the Hovhaness idiom: he introduced a large dose of chromaticism  into his polyphony, and elevated the half-diminished-seventh chord to primary harmonic stature. Along with these harmonic innovations appeared a marked simplification of texture and, most of all, a distinct retardation of rhythmic motion. New works were longer, but the integration of structure and content necessary to sustain them was wholly absent. Of course, Hovhaness followers were used to wading through a dozen new works in search of a winner, but the winner seemed not to appear. Now, nearly 10 years have passed, during which time approximately 20 new symphonies have been added to the Hovhaness canon. Having become acquainted with nearly half of these, as well as a number of miscellaneous pieces, I have yet to discover a redeeming work from this period. True, some works, like the 24th and 29th Symphonies, have attractive moments that shine out from the surrounding mire. But, for the most part, these are long, tired, over­blown, and directionless behemoths that simply cannot sustain the attention of the most sympathetic listener. Yes, Hovhaness’ music has always been simple, and he has always sought to create a sense of serenity. But there is a difference between simplicity and simple-mindedness, and a difference between serenity and catatonia.

To take the 1978 Symphony No. 38 as an example: the work begins in a lovely, if familiar, hymnlike manner, proceeding soon to a vigorous fugue that raises hopes that the Symphony may signal a rejuvenation. The second movement is also fairly attractive. The third movement introduces the solo soprano (on this recording, the 68-year-old com­poser’s newly wedded wife). But by now the action has bogged down in a long, repetitious pentatonic flute solo, and the entrance of the soprano, who continues the melismatic line over a lightly scored accompaniment, does not provide the needed relief or contrast. From here on to the end of the nearly hour-long Symphony, the pace varies between moderately slow and unbearably slow. During this stretch of time, long cantorial lines are extended way beyond their ability to hold one’s interest, enriched by scarcely any tex­tural, contrapuntal, or harmonic involvement. The fifth and concluding movement, plod­ding along in the same vein as the foregoing, offers no sense of finality or summation; the music simply ceases. The overall effect is numbing, and one marvels sadly at the apparent absence of judgment exercised in the manipulation of large units of time duration.

The performance on this recording is presumably authoritative. The small orchestra from Seattle, Hovhaness’ current home, is rather tentative, but quite adequate technically, and the solo playing is competent. Soprano Hinako Fujihara’s unusually high range is challenged by the composer. The quality of her voice is extremely light and pure, but the limited dynamic and expressive range of the music does not give the listener a very full picture of her capabilities. The quality of the recording is borderline acceptable, but the surfaces are generally rather noisy.

HOVHANESS Symphony No. 1, “Exile” (original version). COPLAND Symphony No. 2, “Short.” MILHAUD Symphony No. 1. SEREBRIER Symphony No. 1.

HOVHANESS Symphony No. 1, “Exile” (original version). COPLAND Symphony No. 2, “Short.” MILHAUD Symphony No. 1.  SEREBRIER Symphony No. 1. ● Leopold Stokowski, cond; NBC SO; Houston SO ● GUILD GHCD-2347 (72:51) Live: 12/6/1942; 1/9/1944; 3/21/1943; 11/4/1957

This recent release will be of interest to committed Stokowski enthusiasts, as well as to serious admirers of the composers represented; however, more general listeners are referred elsewhere. I write as a devoted—but not unqualified—admirer of the conductor and of some of the composers. As may be gleaned from the headnote, the Hovhaness, Copland, and Milhaud are taken from live broadcasts with the NBC Symphony from the early 1940s; the Serebrier was taken from a live 1957  performance by the Houston Symphony.

Hovhaness’s Symphony No. 1, “Exile,” is one of the earliest of the composer’s works generally available on recording. (Listeners familiar with the often-recounted tale of the composer’s having burned all the music he had composed up to about 1942 in a giant bonfire may not realize that in truth a good deal of that music remains extant, often integrated into later works, sometimes in modified form, sometimes not.) The Symphony No. 1, “Exile,” was originally composed in 1936, when Hovhaness was 25, to commemorate the massacre of the Armenians by the Turks during the late 1910s. It was first performed for live broadcast in 1939 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of  Leslie Heward. Its subsequent rendition by the NBC Symphony Orchestra, broadcast late in 1942, marks the first auspicious orchestral performance of the composer’s work in the United States. Stokowski remained a vigorous champion of Hovhaness’s music for the rest of his life. (I recall attending a Hovhaness performance conducted by Stokowski when he was past 90.) Stokie lead the premiere in 1955 of Mysterious Mountain, the work that first brought widespread attention to the composer and his music (though its high visibility was largely the result of an RCA Victor recording featuring the Chicago Symphony under Reiner’s direction). Given the chronology, one can perhaps assume that this 1942 performance of the “Exile” Symphony represents the “original version” of the work, and this may be its chief point of interest. In 1961, a score of the symphony was published, but the performance heard here differs significantly from that score, which includes music not heard here, while some of the music heard here does not appear in that score. The version of the work recorded by the Seattle Symphony, conducted by Gerard Schwarz in 1995, conforms to the 1961 score, except for the fact that the central fast movement was replaced by an entirely new (or perhaps one should say, different) movement. What this recording clearly indicates is that the kind of music Hovhaness composed before the legendary bonfire did not differ all that much from the music he wrote afterwards, although perhaps not immediately afterwards. The replacement of the second movement changes the overall character of the work quite significantly, as the original movement, remarkably simplistic, is also vehement and brutal, while the movement that replaced it is much more gentle and intermezzo-like. The other major point of interest is just how freely and spontaneously the orchestra played under Stokowski: Soloists played in an almost improvisatory fashion, the written rhythms serving as little more than suggestions. In tutti passages a sense of rhythmic pulse is often barely discernable. While one may applaud Stokowski’s encouragement of spontaneity in principle, I can’t imagine that any listener would prefer his performance of this work to Schwarz’s, which is more than a mere approximation of the score.

The performance of Copland’s Symphony No. 2, “Short,” is also of considerable historical interest. As with the Hovhaness, this 1944 reading of the 1933 work is also an “American premiere,” the first performance having taken place several years earlier in Mexico, under the direction of Carlos Chavez. Stokowski was a uniquely gifted conductor, but Copland—especially the Copland of the “Short” Symphony—was really the antithesis of the sort of music at which Stokowski excelled. Its crisp articulation, constantly edgy rhythmic shifts, and spiky gestures were light-years away from the opulent sensuality and emotional immediacy that prompted the maestro’s special gifts. What is also notable is the challenge faced by the NBC Symphony—generally considered one of America’s finest orchestras at the time—in maintaining a coherent sense of ensemble in playing this work. A comparison with the recent Naxos recording, with Marin Alsop leading the Bournemouth Symphony, shows the latter to be far more adept at managing the work’s irregularities—not to mention the London Symphony as conducted by the composer himself. The “Short” Symphony is one of those works from which Copland backed off—at least temporarily—in devising a more populist style, thereby ingratiating himself with the public. Heard today the work—one of Copland’s finest—seems clearly cut from the same cloth as Appalachian Spring, if not quite so “Americana.”

Darius Milhaud, a composer whose fecundity is comparable to that of Hovhaness, is similarly represented on this disc by his Symphony No. 1, although his roster of thirteen symphonies doesn’t come close to matching Hovhaness’s 67. His first essay in the form, his Op. 210, appeared during a period of considerable duress for Milhaud. It was composed in 1939, shortly before the composer, a Jew, fled with his family to the United States to escape the Nazis, though he was forced to leave his parents behind to perish during the German occupation. As if this wasn’t enough, he had just suffered his first attack of the severe rheumatoid arthritis that eventually crippled him. So one might expect this to be a work characterized by profound distress. But not from Milhaud. The symphony, in four predominantly fast movements, is largely sunny in spirit, jauntily displaying the congested polytonality that is one of his more consistent characteristics. Annotator Robert Matthew-Walker calls it “one of the greatest French symphonies of the 20th century.” Although it doesn’t face a tremendous amount of competition in that category, I would sooner grant the distinction to one of the symphonies of Henry Barraud (a composer sorely in need of revival and reconsideration). As there is at least one modern recording of the work, this performance will appeal chiefly to those with special interest in either composer or conductor.

The program concludes with the Symphony No. 1 of José Serebrier. Serebrier, now in his 70s, has enjoyed a long and active career—primarily as a conductor, but as a composer as well—but one that has followed an unusual course, unlike the path followed by most internationally celebrated conductors. Born and educated in Uruguay, but of Russian-Polish ancestry, he displayed a precocious talent. Coming to the United States while still in his teens, he studied conducting with George Szell, and was discovered by Stokowski when he was 19. The conductor took him on as an apprentice, appointing him assistant conductor of the newly formed American Symphony Orchestra during the early 1960s. Functioning under the radar for many years, Serebrier has lately been the beneficiary of considerable attention for his recent recordings, and his own compositions are now well represented in the catalog. I have long been an admirer of his Symphony No. 2, “Partita”—and would not hesitate to describe it as the most satisfying Latin American-flavored work known to me—although none of his other works has impressed me as deeply.

Serebrier completed his Symphony No. 1 in 1956, when he was 18, and Stokowski conducted the premiere the following year. (The amusing story of how this came about is recounted in the liner notes.) The work comprises a single movement, beginning slowly in the lower strings in a manner reminiscent of the opening of Creston’s Second Symphony, and immediately exhibits the character of a passacaglia, although I don’t believe that it hews strictly to the principles of that genre. A theme is introduced and developed through a dissonant counterpoint that calls Hindemith to mind. What is most interesting about the work is the way this theme evolves from a somber, dissonant context, gradually becoming increasingly straightforward and outgoing, finally ending  in diatonic triumph. The performance by the Houston Symphony does the work justice, but is far outclassed in every respect by the Bournemouth Symphony recording released recently by Naxos, under the composer’s own direction. Readers who are intrigued by Serebrier are encouraged to pursue his many recordings, as well as the readily available information about his unconventional but highly productive career.

HOVHANESS Piano Trio No. 1. Sonata Ricercare. Artinis. Suite, Sonata for Oboe and Bassoon. Poseidon Sonata. Bardo Sonata. Piano Sonatina. String Trio. Three Haikus. Night of a White Cat. Sonata for Two Clarinets. Sonata for Viola Solo.

HOVHANESS Piano Trio No. 1. Sonata RicercareArtinis, “Urardüan Sun God. Suite for Oboe and Bassoon. Poseidon Sonata. Bardo Sonata. Piano Sonatina. String Trio. Three HaikusNight of a White Cat. Sonata for Two Bassoons. Sonata for Two Clarinets. Sonata for Oboe and Bassoon. Sonata for Viola Solo ● Paul Hersey (pn); Jiří Šesták (ob) Michael Kornacki, John Varineau (cl), Libor Soukal, Radek Dostál (bas); Christina Fong (vn, va); Christopher Martin (va); Karen Krummel (vc) ● OGREOGRESS 884502299595 (DVD; 2:06:08)

Listening to this collection of 14 rarely heard works of Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000)—a total of more than two hours drawn from the years 1935-1992—got me thinking of the very different types of listeners who are drawn to the enormous output of this unusual composer. There are really three large groups, each of which sees the composer according to its own preferred orientation. Some view Hovhaness as a member of the conservative wing of 20th-century American composers, a defender of both beauty and tonality; others view him as an innovative musical thinker, who, along with such explorers of the exotic as Henry Cowell, John Cage, and Lou Harrison, laid the groundwork for the notion of “world music;” still others regard him as a mystic, a visionary, a pioneer of the New Age aesthetic, who renounced intellectual approaches in favor of an appeal to the magical, the intuitive, and the spiritual, and who used his music to advocate pacifism and universal brotherhood. This trichotomy has made for some strange alliances within the pro-Hovhaness camp, and is reflected on this recording. 

Here is a wealth of Hovhanessiana drawn from virtually his entire creative career, from his early 20s until his early 80s, brought to us on one of OgreOgress’s provocatively ornery audio-only DVDs. Yes, that’s right—an audio-only DVD, designed for those with DVD players connected to their audio systems; there is no visual component other than track numbers. I will refer those interested in my thoughts about releasing recordings for this medium to my review of the Ogre’s previous Hovhaness release in Fanfare 32:1 or on my website (www.Walter-Simmons.com). And rather than discuss each little work specifically, I will limit myself to more general comments. 

First of all, with only one or two exceptions, the performances offered here are consistently superb, placing the music in the best possible light. This is especially advantageous to the pieces for woodwinds, as they fall under the heading of Gebrauchsmusik, and hence are the types of pieces that are played a good deal more than they are heard. Such attractive performances make listening to them more pleasurable, although some are pedestrian enough to have been composed by almost anyone. I don’t think even the most infatuated Hovhaness acolyte would deny that a sizable proportion of his music from each of his style-periods amounts to no more than mere tidbits—trirfles of no consequence. The recordings, judging from the impression gleaned from listening to them through my television, are also superb, while the highly informative annotations are written by Marco Shirodkar, curator of the excellent website at www.Hovhaness.com—truly a model among composer-websites. 

Then there is the perspective inferred from the chronological overview (the contents are listed chronologically in the headnote above, and are presented in that sequence on the recording as well). The first two pieces date from the 1930s—before 1942, when the composer supposedly destroyed all the work he had composed up until that time. The Piano Trio was dedicated to Sibelius, with whom the young composer was then in contact. These early pieces tend to be modal and diatonic but not notably “oriental,” and often subjected their extremely simple materials to stringent contrapuntal disciplines. The pieces from the 1940s (represented here by Artinis) reflect Hovhaness’s immersion in his Armenian roots, with piano pieces that imitate zither-like instruments characteristic of the Middle East. (MihrFantasy, Op. 16, and, of course, Lousadzak—none of which is represented on this recording—are the apotheoses of this period.) The pieces from the 1950s (starting on this recording with the Poseidon Sonata)attempt to expand and apply these techniques in a more abstract, less purely ethnomusicological way. Some of them even embrace more dissonant harmonic usages. (It was during the 1940s and 50s, most Hovhaness experts agree, when his greatest works appeared.) The Poseidon Sonata itself was created in a public improvisation, then notated from a recording. During the 1960s (represented here first by the Piano Sonatina) the composer began to fuse sounds derived from the music of Japan, India, and Korea together with some ideas that were circulating among more avant-gardecomposers. These, such as the String Trio offered here, are some of his least readily accessible pieces. Then, from around 1970 on (starting here with Night of a White Cat) he seemed to return to all the techniques he had used in the past, presenting them in their simplest, most extended guises.

The recording as a whole is probably of greatest value to casual listeners of New Age background music (who happen to do their listening on a DVD player). They might play the disc through from beginning to end without paying great attention to any one item. For such a listener the varied instrumentation, stylistic shifts, and excellent performances together evoke a pleasantly exotic mood for reflection. However, sad to say, there are no great discoveries of Hovhanessiana here, no previously hidden masterpieces. 

Perhaps the most ambitious piece of all is the very late Sonata for Viola Solo, written in 1992 for the distinguished violist David L. Sills. Its nine movements add up to some 18 minutes. Although I am generally immune to the charms of pieces for unaccompanied string instruments (the sole exceptions being Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas), I would have to say this is not the worst of the genre, although much of its melodic material is indistinguishable from dozens of Hovhaness melodies one has encountered over the years. But some portions of the piece are quite challenging for the player—especially passages with sustained two-voice counterpoint. I regret having to report that these passages tax Christina Fong’s technique past her ability to maintain proper intonation, producing some unfortunate results.

HOVHANESS Symphony No. 10, “Vahaken.” Meditation on Zeami. Floating World. Ode to the Temple of Sound

HOVHANESS: Symphony No. 10, “Vahaken.” Meditation on Zeami. Floating World. Ode to the Temple of Sound • Chung Park, cond; Frost SO • CENTAUR CRC-2954 (58:00)

Here is a new release of music by Alan Hovhaness that will be largely unfamiliar to most listeners. The only one of these pieces that has been previously recorded is Floating World, written in 1964 for André Kostelanetz and the New York Philharmonic, who gave the premiere shortly thereafter, and then recorded it for Columbia Masterworks (MS-7162). However, Kostelanetz seemed to think that his devotion to Hovhaness’s music entitled him to modify it at will, in this case tightening it up a bit by shaving almost a minute off its duration. Therefore, the performance offered here is billed as the “First Complete Recording,” although given the “loose” nature of the composer’s approach to form, the impact of the cut is negligible; and Kostelanetz’s was otherwise a fine recorded performance.

The program assembled here highlights the years 1963-1966. Hovhaness had just spent time in India, Japan, and Korea, studying the indigenous music of those countries. What he discovered left a major impact on his own compositions during those years and shortly afterward, adding a number of new devices to his compositional palette. Interestingly, the timing of his incorporation of these new devices corresponded to some of the modernist trends then drawing the attention of critics and commentators. During those years Hovhaness turned away to some extent from the modal counterpoint, triadic harmony, and specifically Armenian sources of inspiration that had characterized so much of his music up to that point. Instead one heard much secondal (cluster) dissonance, stentorian unison melodies accompanied by clanging bells, dissonant canons at the unison, portamento (sliding tones) in the trombone and other instruments as well as the strings. There was also a greatly increased use of quasi-aleatoric senza misura passages (controlled chaos), in which each instrument repeats its own, somewhat different material without specific rhythm or tempo, the duration and dynamics of these passages suggested in the score, but controlled by the conductor. (Hovhaness had actually devised this technique during the mid 1940s, but it became one of his primary devices during the 1960s. Some works, such as the Symphony No. 19, “Vishnu” [1966], consist of virtually nothing but such passages.) Many of these techniques grew out of the composer’s fascination with the music of Japanese Gagaku and Noh drama, as well as from attempts to replicate the sounds of some Japanese instruments. The pieces from this period represent Hovhaness’s most “modern”-sounding music, as well as the music whose impact is most purely “sonic.”

Symphony No. 10, “Vahaken” (named for an ancient Armenian god) is an exception to the generalizations above. It was largely composed in 1944, although revised in 1963; hence its connection with the rest of the program. I must confess that it is not one of my favorite Hovhaness symphonies, although this is largely due to my subjective distaste for the Ionian mode (otherwise known as the major scale), which pervades the outer movements of the work. The symphony shares much in common with the composer’s other works from the 1940s; the 1963 revisions are not obvious. Its style reveals many usages associated with the explicitly Armenian pieces, although annotator Marco Shirodkar (Hovhaness authority and curator of the excellent Web site www.hovhaness.com) identifies the music of India as the dominant source of inspiration. Much of the first movement is pervaded by simple melodies accompanied by drum and polymodal counterpoint played pizzicato by the strings. The brief second movement is most uncharacteristic: a delicate minuet that almost recalls Ravel, highlighted by flute, accompanied by string pizzicati (very similar to the second movement of the Concerto No. 8 [1957] for orchestra—one of the composer’s masterpieces). The third movement is similar in concept and content to the first, whose material returns at the conclusion of the work.

Meditation on Zeami
 was composed in 1963 for Leopold Stokowski (another Hovhaness champion), who conducted the American Symphony Orchestra in the work’s premiere (which I attended some 45 years ago). (The notoriously provocative Stokowski was surprisingly timid about employing some of Hovhaness’s more unusual techniques, such as the portamenti, and tended to “downplay” them.) Zeami was one of the pioneers of Noh drama during the 14th-15th centuries, so in this 15-minute work the composer gave full rein to the Japanese-inspired techniques described above.

Floating World
 was composed the following year and, based on a Japanese epic and related concepts, its content and treatment are very similar to those found in both other works composed at this time. However, I find Floating World to be the most convincing and effective of all Hovhaness’s pieces from the period discussed here. This is partly because its primary melody (which the composer believed to have healing properties) is unusual and boldly striking, but also because it reveals a sense of powerful and concentrated dramatic focus, with something approaching a true “climax”—quite unusual for this composer, while capturing the sense of wild abandon for which he often strove less successfully.

Ode to the Temple of Sound
 was commissioned for the inauguration of Jones Hall in Houston in 1966. Sir John Barbirolli led the Houston Symphony in the premiere. Of all the pieces on this program, this is the one in which the element of instrumental color and sonority is most dominant—understandable in light of the circumstances of the commission. The treatment of the orchestra is lavish, with an emphasis on dynamic extremes that range from passages of ethereal delicacy to explosive outbursts. A central dance-like melody is a little heavy-handedly pentatonic, and is treated with primitivistic polymodal counterpoint.

These are generally very good performances. The Frost Symphony Orchestra is in residence at the University of Miami, while conductor Chung Park (presumably Korean), who also served as the producer of the recording, is based in Idaho, although the disc was recorded in Florida. Despite the frequent association of Hovhaness with the “New Age” sensibility, and with mystical evocations of spiritual serenity, there was also an angry, violent side to this composer, and he often complained that performances failed to capture this aspect of his expression; he was also frustrated that conductors—like Stokowski, as noted above—lessened the impact of some of his more original devices. Though adequate to the challenges of the music, the Frost Symphony does not meet the highest standards with regard to precision or refinement. But what is most valuable about all the performances on this recording is that they really go all out in emphasizing the music’s extremes—dynamic contrasts, both delicacy and power of sonority—as well as the other unusual devices. During the days of LPs, where much of Hovhaness’s music first appeared, these extremes had to be compressed to avoid distortion or to be audible above surface noise. But today, with the advances in digital recording technology, this music is freed to achieve optimal sonic impact.