Alan Hovhaness List of Works

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About this Listing

In the pantheon of modern American composers, assessing the vast output of Alan Hovhaness proves particularly problematic. His oeuvre as a whole, with its wealth of shifting and overlapping cultural influences, defies pigeonholing for any neatly ordered scheme of 20th-century music, and this body of work within itself seems to elude standard attempts at a neat ordering. Two major constraints preclude a complete and orderly listing of Hovhaness's output, rendering any likelihood of definitiveness probably unattainable.

Firstly, we cannot know just how much was written. The composer himself claimed to have consigned "about a thousand works or so" to the fireplace early in his career¹. Whilst this is an unverifiable claim, it certainly seems credible that hundreds were discarded, in light of his subsequent prolificacy. His official opus tally approaches 450, and if dozens of these opus numbers were not subdivided to accommodate distinct works, it would approach 500. Additionally, some extant works escaped any cataloging whatsoever, and would extend the tally way beyond 500. Thus 'completeness' of Hovhaness's oeuvre can at best be a balanced assessment of what is cataloged, what is uncataloged but extant, or what is lost to Hovhaness's bonfires but reliably documented.

Secondly, ascertaining the true chronology of many extant works is fraught with hazards. This is for a variety of reasons, the chief ones meriting some explanation:

  1. Opus Numbering Hiatus: Hovhaness assigned opus numbers to his early works up to 1943, when he underwent a crisis of musical identity. Following a fresh start in 1944, he assigned no opus numbers to new works until imposed upon in 1955 when Leopold Stokowski was premiering the composer's Symphony No.2 Mysterious Mountain and requested an opus number for the work. Hovhaness said in a 1981 interview that in the absence of an active catalog Stokowski "picked [opus 132] out of the air" and he agreed to it. Given the work's huge success and publication, this number stuck but proved not nearly high enough to accommodate the interim number of works composed since 1943. Thus the composer's opus catalog had an ill-prepared rebirth, forcing contrived opus numbering for many works composed before and, by default, all works composed after "Opus 132".

  2. Belated Publication: When wider recognition for Hovhaness came in the late 1950s, he was finally able to secure publication for many early works, but instead of utilizing available pre-Op.132 numbers, some were given misleadingly high post-Op.132 numbers. For example, Symphonies Nos. 8 (1947) and 9 (1950) were published as Opp.179 and 180, but actually predated Symphony No.2, already published as Op.132.

  3. Retrogressive Opus Numbering: The opposite of the above was also true. Some new works inherited low opus numbers that had become 'freed up' as they were previously assigned to early works since discarded. This was presumably either to eliminate anomalous gaps in the numerical cataloging or to completely exorcise these earlier discarded works from the catalog, even though some had been published.

  4. Recycling: Hovhaness freely recycled his musical material, resulting in whole sections — sometimes entire movements — of new works comprising older material. In particular, much material in operatic and choral works cascaded over into smaller 'satellite' instrumental works. (The composer's detractors have berated his recycling, but given that Hovhaness subsisted mostly from commissions, it should not necessarily be seen as laziness so much as evidence of a pragmatic work ethic more consistent with Baroque-era practices than those of his contemporaries. Furthermore, evidence suggests he tended to recycle mainly what he deemed stronger material from neglected works).

  5. Revisions: Hovhaness sometimes replaced individual movements of works which he later felt to be particularly weak. For example, the central movement of his 1936 Exile Symphony was replaced with a completely new one in 1971.

For these chief reasons, the usual reliability of opus numbering as a guide to a composer's chronology has so many exceptions with Hovhaness as to warrant the creation of a distinct chronological catalogue. The column headers of the present catalog facilitate sorting works by date (as well as by opus number, title, instrumentation and publisher) although several of these dates are still approximate or estimated.

Previous Cataloging of Hovhaness Works

The need to extract chronological order from the chaos of the Hovhaness catalog was a challenge first taken up in 1972 by American composer and musicologist Arnold Rosner when writing his Hovhaness PhD thesis². Within the appendix of his thesis is an estimated chronology of Hovhaness works written up to that point, laying bare for the first time the magnitude of incongruence between cataloging and chronology. One might wryly observe that the term Hovhaness used for his quasi-aleatoric orchestral textures — "controlled chaos" — also provides a potent metaphor for the 'orderliness' of the composer's published catalog.

A decade after Rosner's work, a more comprehensive cataloging was initiated by Englishman Richard Howard, who carefully compiled a listing of Hovhaness works with the close cooperation (and gratitude) of the now aging composer. Unusually, this was not intended for any academic paper or journal — its author being a music lover not a musicologist — but executed as a selfless act of kindness by an ardent admirer and good friend of the composer. This listing was published in 1983 as The Works of Alan Hovhaness: A Catalog, Opus 1-Opus 360 (ISBN 0-912483-00-8) by Pro Am Music Resources.

Howard's catalog inevitably became somewhat out-of-date, given that in 1983 Hovhaness would be composing with characteristic zeal for another 12 years. The present posthumous catalog naturally escapes such a limitation, but in the intervening 28 years several other works have come to light, facilitating greater completeness for earlier as well as later years.


In compiling the present listing, information relating to some late Hovhaness works was kindly provided by Mrs. Hovhaness. Additionally, several unpublished scores were brought to light through the freely-given research efforts of David Badagnani as well as by visitors to our website who kindly verified the existence of unpublished scores in their possession.

I also extend particular gratitude to Richard Howard for his support of this updated catalog and the fact that his invaluable work with Hovhaness on the 1983 catalog may have rescued many early works from permanent obscurity. His catalog also provided the natural starting point for the present one.

Marco Shirodkar — December 2010

¹ Richard Howard interview with Alan Hovhaness, Seattle, WA, October 1983.
² Arnold Rosner "An Analytical Survey of the Music of Alan Hovhaness", 1972, State University of New York at Buffalo.

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