HOVHANESS: Khrimian Hairig / Guitar Concerto / Symphony No. 60
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Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000)
Khrimian Hairig • Guitar Concerto • Symphony No. 60 "To the Appalachian Mountains"
Program Notes by Hinako Fujihara Hovhaness
During our 24 years of life together, I watched Alan Hovhaness composing, yet I am amazed by how much he has written. He was, without exaggeration, the most prolific composer of the twentieth century. He composed 67 symphonies and concertos, and wrote for every instrument and combination. He also wrote operas, oratorios, cantatas, anthems, and songs. His opus total is 434, but if one adds his manuscript music without an opus number, it would be over 500. To me, he was music itself.
In his own biography that I found, Alan writes that he was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, on 8 March 1911. He studied the piano with Adelaide Proctor and Heinrich Gebhard, and composition with Frederick Converse at the New England Conservatory of Music. He considered his main teachers to be Herman di Giovanno, a Greek mystic-painter, and Masataro Togi, a great Japanese gagaku musician. He had a distinguished academic background and education, yet he was a free thinker. Even when he was a composition student, he composed two kinds of music – one for his teacher (to please him) and one for himself (his original). When he showed the second one to his teacher, he was told he was a fool. He did not follow the mainstream of contemporary music, but his own voice (his instinct) and the voice of a higher source, perhaps the knowledge and influence of the great composers of the past that he greatly admired. His music was not accepted by "academics" or certain powerful but prejudiced composers at that time, so he went underground to accomplish his goal. In 1944 he established an amateur orchestra to perform his own music and later, in the 1960s, he created Poseidon, his own recording company. He recorded his new music regularly in England and made it available in the United States and the United Kingdom.
In his later years Hovhaness became one of the most-performed composers of the twentieth century. His music was loved by people, but criticism of his music was that his music was too popular. He once said "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."
Khrimian Hairig was composed in October 1944 and revised on 29 May 1948. No commercial recording was made until 1995, when it was recorded by the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Richard Auldon Clark. In 1942 Hovhaness was given a scholarship to study at Tanglewood, but it became a disastrous experience for him. His music was criticized and despised by the composers heading the school. He left there the next morning and it seemed he had lost the direction for his music. Around that time he met Herman di Giovanno, a Greek psychic (Hovhaness called him a spiritual teacher). Giovanno helped him to find a new direction for his music – not to follow the passing fads of contemporary music but, instead, to find the true source of music. Hovhaness went back to his ancestral heritage, ancient Armenian music. His music written in the 1940s was called his "Armenian period". His well-known Prayer of St Gregory, Op. 62(b), for trumpet and strings [Naxos 8.559207], was written in 1946 and became his trademark. Khrimian Hairig, however, has never enjoyed the success it deserves.
In 1959 Hovhaness composed the concerto Return and Rebuild the Desolate Place, Op. 213,for trumpet and wind symphony. The second movement was an arrangement of Khrimian Hairig, practically a duplication. He must have been discouraged by the piece not having been performed, using it in the other concerto in the hope that it would be heard. According to program notes written by the composer: "The music was inspired by a portrait of the heroic priest Khrimian Hairig, who led the Armenian people through many persecutions. It is a melismatic hymn of the builders of the temple who follow the sound of the trumpet, which is the cantor or messenger. This priest-like melody is in the form of three arcs: 1) The Chalice of Holiness 2) Wings of Compassion 3) The Triumph of Faith." The music is in one movement, Andante, noble and heroic; it is still printed in the composer's manuscript, in his handwriting of 1948.
The music starts with six measures of introduction by the strings and then the trumpet solo starts with an obligato-like melody which soars over the strings and which they echo to the trumpet. Together they create the atmosphere of a cathedral. In this piece, unlike Prayer of St Gregory, the main melody does not come until almost the end. Finally it is played by the trumpet, the foundation of the piece. It is worth waiting for, this compassionate melody bringing complete satisfaction. In my opinion this piece is his true masterpiece and this beloved melody portrays Hovhaness, the composer, himself.
The Guitar Concerto, Op. 325, was composed for Javier Calderon, the virtuoso Bolivian-born guitarist. He came to see Hovhaness and wanted him to compose a guitar concerto for him. In his letter to me, written in 2005, he says: "The idea and commission of the Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra was mine; I have always loved and respected the music of your husband, Alan Hovhaness, so, since I was young, I wished that there was music written for the guitar by him so I could have the opportunity to perform it – so I approached him. I still have the handwritten letters that he wrote to me when we were collaborating on this project, and also the photographs that you took of us together at that time. When he finished, he wrote at the top of the score, dedicated "to Javier Calderon." The commission came from SRO Production Performing Artist Management, in conjunction with the Minnesota Orchestra. Hovhaness signed the contract on 10 July 1978, and completed the concerto at 2.15 p.m. on 21 January 1979, as indicated in the score. In summer 1979 Calderon gave the première of the concerto with the Minnesota Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin. After the performance, Calderon sent us a recording of the première. This first commercial recording was played by David Leisner, a New York guitarist. Previously he had recorded Hovhaness's Spirit of Trees, Op. 374, for harp and guitar, with the harpist Yolanda Kondanassis.
The Guitar Concerto is in three movements. The first starts with the whole orchestra and is followed by a senza misura; this guitar solo was written in percussionistic jhala style. The composer explains: "Jhala is the sound of cups filled with various levels of water and struck by sticks. It is a Sanskrit word from the instruments called jhala taranga, which means "waves of water". The second movement is a romantic movement and is constructed of continuous, haunting melodies played by not only the guitar, but by different solo instruments which lead into the guitar cadenza. In the third movement the guitar plays a 53 measure melody accompanied by the orchestra, then the solo cadenza comes in. It is written in alternating metres of 4/4, 7/8, 5/8. Then another guitar melody is written with rapidly changing metres of 9/8, 8/8, 7/8, 5/8, 8/8, 11/8, 10/8. Hovhaness originally