Alan Hovhaness Symphonies - Part 1 : Overview and Complete Listing

Overview & List of Symphonies Symphonies
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Symphonies  1530  Symphonies  3145  Symphonies  4667 
 Overview of the Hovhaness Symphonies


Alan Hovhaness's catalog of symphonies is numbered up to 67, but 75 is nearer the mark if suppressed early works and an unnumbered chamber symphony are included.  It was Hovhaness's longevity which afforded him the time to compose so many, the last 43 of them being penned after his 60th birthday.  There is a parallel here with the prolific English symphonist Havergal Brian, who penned some 28 of his 32 symphonies after the same birthday.  (Collectors of symphonic trivia may be interested to know that exceeding the Hovhaness tally are the Finnish composer and conductor Leif Segerstam with over 250 designated symphonies and Englishman Derek Bourgeois whose 101st symphony was completed in early 2015).

The number of Hovhaness symphonies expressed as a percentage of his total surviving output (about 500 works) indicates that he did not specialize in this genre any more than other 20th century symphonists: 67 symphonies comprise around 13% of his output; compare this with, for example, Miaskovsky's twenty-seven (26%).  But in a century when the "symphonist" laboured over maybe five to ten examples in a lifetime, suspicion awaits any modern-day symphonist who creates with a Baroque-like fluency for there is the expectation of an inverse correlation between quantity and quality.

Most 20th century symphonists could optimistically expect only their finest examples to gain admittance to the increasingly crowded canon of symphonies in the wider orchestral repertoire.  In the case of Hovhaness's most polished symphonies, namely those from the 1950s and 60s, only 1955's No.2 Mysterious Mountain has enjoyed regular concert performance and multiple recordings.  Even this success is noteworthy given that Hovhaness's musical sensibility generally shunned the very attributes long considered the hallmarks of symphonic writing — sonata-like structures, long-range thematic metamorphosis and goal-directed drama.  Hovhaness's musical affinities reached back further than the period which witnessed the Classical and Romantic symphony, as Henry Cowell astutely observed: "Hovhaness has found new ways to use the archaic materials with which he starts it is as though he had skipped the 18th and 19th centuries".  These "new ways" are in plentiful supply in the early symphonies.  Thus, although a few symphonies employ sonata form (e.g. No.3) or have material that is clearly developed, recapitulated or goal-directed (No.11) there is generally scant homage to the Austro-German tradition which nurtured the symphony over two centuries.  Further evidence of Hovhaness's somewhat loose conception of the term 'symphony' is that many of his symphonies acquired their designation quite arbitrarily, several years after composition, whilst others are clearly solo concertos in all but name (e.g. No.36 for flute and strings).  Still other works betray a truly symphonic conception yet escaped the designation of 'symphony', such as the admirably wrought Concerto No.7 for Orchestra.  It is therefore reasonable to conclude that Hovhaness had a shamelessly irreverent attitude to contemporaneous conceptions of the modern symphony, for him the term 'symphony' simply encompassed any multi-movement or substantial orchestral piece, and we can best approach these works by casting aside any expectations of symphonic architectonics.

The priority task when investigating a prolific symphonist is to 'separate the wheat from the chaff'.  It was in the 1940s, 50s and 60s that Hovhaness was at his most fertile, ingeniously synthesizing ever new musical devices and sonorities into his seemingly inexhaustible compositional palette.  But by the mid-1970s (from around Symphony No.26 onwards) the drama and inventiveness, if not the productivity, were tapering off somewhat.  As a composer he had essentially ceased to evolve, but still had ample techniques from his past upon which to draw, plus the stamina — possibly sheer obsession — to keep on producing.  Writing to this author in November 1983, he stated: "I write too much, far too much (55 symphonies).  This is my insanity, and new music is not published".  Later he adds: "I become more and more simple.  I hate every dishonest note I may have written." This is borne out by the music — textures are sparser, melodies seemingly kitsch in their naive simplicity, and fugal passages can sound like flawless student exercises in Baroque counterpoint.  This late period of simplicity is not devoid of fine pieces, but essentially the music is less engrossing and lacks the wonderment of the previous decades.  The first 25-or-so symphonies enthral in their diversity, invention and subject matter.  Several of these 'early' examples are appropriately sub-titled, and could more accurately be described as symphonic poems, such as the cosmically-themed No.19 (Vishnu) and two evocative mountain symphonies, No.7 (Nanga Parvat) and No.14 (Ararat).

Excluding discarded juvenilia, Hovhaness did not really embark on writing symphonies until the mid-50s, when he first received a steady flow of commissions from major orchestras.  His symphonic cycle is probably unparalleled anywhere for sheer diversity — of style, structure and number of movements, duration and forces employed — yet each work bears the unmistakable stamp of Hovhaness.  The single thread linking all 67 symphonies is simply the designation 'symphony'.  Spanning a period of some 60 years, each betrays the hallmarks of Hovhaness's stylistic tendencies at the time of writing.  For example, Nos. 8 and 10, written before No.2, betray his non-harmonic, linear preoccupations of the 1940s, whereas Nos. 16, 17 and 19, written in the mid-60s following studies in Japan, evoke unmistakable elements of Gagaku court music.  By the mid-1970s, overtly Eastern influences had run their course, and quasi-Western chromatic harmony emerges.  The later, less exotic symphonies (from No.26 onwards) clearly favour the more abstract, multi-movement structures one more readily associates with the Western symphonic mould, though even here there is a lack of high drama.

A Hovhaness symphony may consist of one or several movements (a record-breaking 24 short movements in the case of Symphony No.9).  Durations vary from around 11 minutes (No.5) to almost an hour.  Vocal writing with a mystical or religious theme is not uncommon, nor is prominent concerto-like writing for solo instruments.  Some symphonies were adaptations of stage works.  Hovhaness's visionary leanings mean that many symphonies have a descriptive sub-title, which, as with Haydn's large symphonic canon, certainly aids in recalling a particular one.  Some began life with a title, only later taking on the mantle of Symphony (e.g. No.8).

The numbering of Hovhaness's earlier symphonies is chaotic and thus misleading.  In the late 1950s earlier Armenian-flavoured orchestral works were added to the symphonic canon with higher catalogue and opus numbering.  Hence the numbering should not be considered a guide to the stylistic evolution of Hovhaness in the late 1950s.  More details are given in the section discussing Symphonies 1-14.

Aside from early numbering issues, different versions of a few symphonies exist, but happily not to the extent that they do with Bruckner.  Some movements have been revised or later replaced.  By Hovhaness's own admission, he could be too weak to refuse requests from certain opportunistic conductors, an extreme case in point being the New York-based conductor Andre Kostelantez, who willfully reordered, cut or simply recommissioned some Hovhaness's pieces.  It was his early years of struggle that made Hovhaness too accommodating towards certain establishment musicians.  That said, his common practice of writing to order for any occasion, and with fluency, is consistent with the equally adaptable and prolific composers of the Baroque era.

 List of Symphonies


The table below lists the symphonies by index number which, as explained on the next page, is not chronological for the first thirteen.  Scoring is for orchestra except where stated.  For details of exact scoring, approximate duration and publisher, visit our comprehensive list of Hovhaness works or Hovhaness orchestral works.

Symphonies which have been recorded commercially are indicated with * for a CD, or * for an LP.

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No. Title Opus Year Comments
  1 Exile* 17, No.2 1936 2nd movement re-written in the 1970s
  2 Mysterious Mountain** 132 1955  
  3 * 148 1956  
  4 ** 165 1958 Wind symphony orchestra
  5 170 1953 rev.63  
  6 Celestial Gate** 173 1959 Small orchestra
  7 Nanga Parvat* 178 1959 Wind symphony orchestra
  8 Arjuna 179 1947 Piano and orchestra
  9 Saint Vartan** 180 1949 Also catalogued as Op.80
10 Vahaken 184 1944 rev.  65  
11 All Men Are Brothers** 186 1960 rev.  69 1st movt.  incorporates music from 1928/1932
12 Choral 188 1960 Choir, SATB, orchestra & tape
13 Ardent Song 190 1954 rev.60 Martha Graham dance commission
14 Ararat* 194 1960 Wind symphony orchestra
15 Silver Pilgrimage** 199 1962 ...
16 Kayagum* 202 1962 Strings, perc., harp & 6 Korean instruments
17 Symphony for Metal Orchestra** 203 1963 6 flutes, 3 trombones, metallic percussion
18 Circe 204a 1963 Martha Graham dance commission
19 Vishnu** 217 1966 Originally titled To Vishnu
20 Three Journeys to a Holy Mountain** 223 1968 Wind band
Mountains and Rivers Without End** 225 1968 Chamber symphony for 10 players
21 Symphony Etchmiadzin** 234 1968 ...
22 City Of Light* 236 1970 ...
23 Ani** 249 1972 Large band & brass choir ad lib
24 Majnun** 273 1973 Tenor, chorus (SATB), trumpet, violin & strings
25 Odysseus** 275 1973 ...
26 ... 280 1975 ...
27 ... 285 1976 ...
28 ... 286 " ...
29 * 289 " Baritone horn & orchestra
30 ... 293 " ...
31 ** 294 1977 String orchestra
32 The Broken Wings 296 " ...
33 ... 307 " ...
34 * 310 " Bass trombone and strings
35 ... 311 1978 Two orchestras, including Korean instruments
36 ... 312 " Flute and orchestra
37 ... 313 " ...
38 * (2 movts) * 314 " soprano, flute, trumpet & strings
39 * 321 " Guitar & orchestra
40 * 324 1979 ...
41 ... 330 " ...
42 ... 332 " ...
43 ... 334 " Oboe, trumpet, timpani & strings
44 ... 339 1980 ...
45 ... 342 1954 Uncatalogued for 26 years
46 To The Green Mountains* 347 1980 ...
47 Walla Walla, Land of Many Waters* 348 " So titled as commissioned by the Walla Walla Symphony
48 Vision Of Andromeda 355 1981 ...
49 Christmas Symphony* 356 " String orchestra
50 Mount St.  Helens* 360 1982 Formally commissioned by publisher CF Peters
51 ... 364 " Trumpet & strings
52 Journey To Vega 372 1983 ...
53 Star Dawn* 377 " ...
54 ... 378 " ...
55 ... 379 " ...
56 ... 380 " ...
57 Cold Mountain 381 " ...
58 Symphony Sacra 389 1985 ...
59 * 395 " ...
60 To The Appalachian Mountains* 396 " ...
61 ... 397 1986 ...
62 Oh Let Man Not Forget These Words Divine 402 1987-88 Baritone, trumpet, strings
63 Loon Lake* 411 1988 ...
64 Agiochook 422 ? Trumpet & strings
65 Artstakh 427 1991 ...
66 Hymn to Glacier Peak* 428 1992 ...
67 Hymn To The Mountains 429 1992 ...

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