2017-04-02 Notes from the Bench


“Out of the Depths” Alan Hovhaness

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate



Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice,
let Thine ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplication.
If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities
O Lord, who shall stand?
I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait.
My soul waiteth for the Lord
More than they that watch for the morning.
I say, more than they that watch for the morning.

Psalm 130



Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) was an Armenian-American composer, one of the most prolific composers of the twentieth century composer with over 500 surviving works that include 67 numbered symphonies and 434 opus numbers. “Out of the Depths” (Op. 142, No. 3) was originally composed in 1938 and is among Hovhaness’s early sacred works written while he served as the organist for St. James Armenian Church in Watertown, MA, a suburb of Boston.

Hovhaness was born “Alan Vaness Chakmakjiam” in Massachusetts; he later changed his name to “Hovhaness” to honor is paternal grandfather and to simplify his name because few people could correctly pronounce his birth surname. He demonstrated interest in music at an early age; he was improvising music and composing pieces with his own system of notation before he began formal piano studies. Hovhaness continued his music studies at Tufts College and the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. He later taught briefly at the Boston Conservatory from 1948-1951. From 1951 until the early 1970s, he lived in New York and worked as a full-time composer writing music for radio, theatre and dance productions, and television documentaries. Hovhaness moved to Seattle in the 1970s where he was already composer-in-residence for the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and continued to compose through the rest of his life. He was particularly drawn to the landscape of Washington, particularly loved the mountains there.

Hovhaness’s musical training was the rooted in the western-tradition. He was especially interested in and researched “non-western” music, music from his own Armenian culture as well as the ancient music traditions from India, Japan, South Korea, and Hawaii. Hovhaness frequently assimilated the various musical characteristics from different cultures into his own works, creating a seamless synthesis of eastern and western music cultures. Throughout his life, Hovhaness was hypersensitive to criticism of his works and periodically destroyed manuscripts as a reaction, later stating that it was his desire to make a fresh start in composing.



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