Hovhaness, Alan(hōvhä`nəs), 1911–2000, American composer, b. Somerville, Mass., as Alan Vaness Chakmakjian. Hovhaness was of Armenian and Scottish descent, and many of his works are based on Armenian culture or show influences from Middle Eastern, Asian, or early European music. Inspired by nature and Christian mysticism, he was also interested in unusual sonorities, rejecting the harmonic complexities of much modern music in favor of melody, clarity, simplicity, and an encompassing musical atmosphere. Hovhaness was enormously prolific; although he destroyed many compositions in 1940, his extant works number about 500, including 67 symphonies. Among his works are Lousadzak [coming of light] (1945), for piano and strings; the widely played Second Symphony, subtitled Mysterious Mountain (1955); the symphonic poem Floating World–Ukiyo (1965); And God Created Great Whales (1970), for orchestra and recorded whalesong; and Mt. Katahdin (1987), a piano sonata.
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Hovhaness, Alan (b. Chakmajian)(1911– ) composer; born in Somerville, Mass. Of Scottish as well as Armenian descent, he showed an early interest in both composing and mysticism. He studied at the New England Conservatory in the 1920s and added an awareness of the music of India to that of his Armenian heritage; later he would spend time in Asia and add yet another strand to his own often exotic compositions. Legendarily prolific, usually working with commissions or grants, he went through several periods or styles but most of his work has a religious element and is mellifluous if distinctive.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.