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Alan Hovhaness
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Alan Hovhaness

Alan Hovhaness (March 8, 1911 - June 21, 2000) was an American composer of Armenian and Scottish descent.

He was born as Alan Vaness Chakmakjian in Somerville, Massachusetts to Haroutiun Vaness Chakmakjian, a chemistry professor at Tufts College, and Madeline Scott. (Upon his mother's death (1931), he used the surname "Hovaness" in honor of his paternal grandfather, and officially changed it to "Hovhaness" around 1940.) Alan was interested in music from a very early age, and decided to devote himself to composition at the age of 14. He studied at Tufts and then the New England Conservatory of Music, under Frederick Converse.

He became interested in Armenian culture and music in 1940, as the organist for the St. James Armenian Church in Watertown, Massachusetts. In 1942 he won a scholarship at Tanglewood to study in Bohuslav Martinu's master class, but did not fit in, and felt his music was ridiculed by his fellow students. The next year he devoted himself to Armenian subject matter, in particular using modes distinctive to Armenian music, and continued for several years, achieving some renown and the support of other musicians, including John Cage and Martha Graham, all while continuing as church organist.

In 1948 he joined the faculty of the Boston Music Conservatory, teaching there for three years, then in 1951 took up composing fulltime. During the 1950s he branched out from Armenian music, adopting styles and material from a wide variety of sources. In 1954 he wrote the score for the Broadway play The Flowering Peach by Clifford Odets, and then two scores for NBC documentaries.

His biggest breakthrough to date came in 1955, when his Symphony No. 2, Mysterious Mountain, was commissioned for Leopold Stokowski's debut with the Houston Symphony, and that year MGM Records released recordings of a number of his works.

He moved to Seattle in 1963, where he lived for the rest of his life.

His music is accessible to the lay listener and often invokes a mood of mystery or contemplation. Boston Globe music critic Richard Buell wrote: "Although he has been stereotyped as a self-consciously Armenian composer (rather as Ernest Bloch is seen as a Jewish composer), his output assimilates the music of many cultures. What may be most American about all of it is the way it turns its materials into a kind of exoticism. The atmosphere is hushed, reverential, mystical, nostalgic."

Significant compositions include:

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