Alan Hovhaness - Complete sonatas and sonatinas Vol.5 (Codice: TAUKAY 146)


Nicola Giosmin - piano

Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) is unique in the history of western music. An American-born composer, of an Armenian father and a Scottish mother, an author of more than 500 pieces of music (including 70 symphonies), a friend of musicians and dancers such as John Cage and Martha Graham, and a teacher to composers such as Dominique Argento and John S. Hilliard, his music blends a tremendous variety of styles: western tonality, aleatoric music, renaissance polyphony, Armenian folklore, carnatic and hindustani music, Japanese traditional music, etc without drifting into pure eclecticism or trivial orientalism. This curious personality, Eastern influenced and extremely prolific, is tempered by an unprecedented harshness. It often happens that composers destroy their own music if they consider it not good enough: Hovhaness had these cathartic moments at least three times in his life and eliminated almost one hundred opus numbers (including two operas, seven symphonies and innumerable chamber pieces).
Hovhaness was fundamentally a contemplative composer with no concern for his own “career”. After a promising debut, an early “romantic period” (in which he was compared to Sibelius), and a strong training (especially in counterpoint) with Frederick Converse, he refused a scholarship to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Revealingly, he wrote for a survey about American composers for the American Music Center in 1949: “It is best that no mention be made of my scholarships or education because my direction is completely away from the approved path of any of my teachers - thus the responsibility [for attitudes towards my music] will be inflicted to no one but myself”. Up until his forties, he was known as a “composer without performances” but at 41 the great Stokowsky decided to conduct his Symphony n. 2. It would be the beginning of a career, strongly protective of his artistic integrity: an attitude that he kept throughout his life. In the Sixties he began a series of trips to the East in order to study musical practices and to learn to play traditional instruments: all these experiences are strongly present in his scores.
His peculiar musical attributes, the originality of his writing, his deep love for Nature, his pure spirituality, his complete detachment from the Avant-gardes, and his isolation in his search for “his own” music make Alan Hovhaness one of the most important outsiders of 20th century: in a period of academicism and institutionalisation of contemporary music, he is vital.

Piano sonatas and sonatinas
A pianist facing Hovhaness’ works risks losing himself among sonatas, sonatinas, suites and other pieces. In this huge body of music we can find classical sonatas forms, aleatoric pieces, suites in ancient style, and ancient forms (like fugues or canons) completely revisited in an eastern style. Any performer wishing to expand his repertoire and to promote Hovhaness music has many different choices: to play some works taken from a specific period, to select only some compositions following their music features, or to study only certain kinds of compositions. We followed the latter path, even though, as Wayne David Johnson points out in his thesis (see bibliography), Hovhaness’ choice of titles like “sonata” or “sonatina” can be “rather puzzling”. The reasons for this choice are:

Many recordings of piano music are available but not as an organic set. The simplest thing is to select a particular example representative of a particular type of composition. 

Choosing the “sonata” form, we can show a broad chronological span of Hovhaness’ output, from the first sonata (Ricercare) dating 1935, to the last (Katahdin) dating 1987.

This chronological span also reflects Hovhaness’ attitude towards styles. In this way a complete recording of his sonatas can give a full overview of Hovhaness’ stylistic featuresWe hope that this work will bring Hovhaness to his rightful place in the piano’s repertoire.

In this CD

Sonata Madras op. 176
This sonata was performed by Hovhaness himself on the 1st of January 1960. It is clearly a work that blends East and West together. The first movement consists of a simple drone (only two notes: a and e) accompanied and played with a free melody, essentially improvised. The second movement opens with an episode written in the ancient style of reinassance counterpoint (three voices) and continues with an eastern jhala in two sections: the piece ends with a western severe counterpoint page based on the previous jhala drone. The fusion between East and West reaches a climax with the final movement: the prelude in an oriental improvised fashion, followed by a modal fugue. This sonata is concrete proof of Hovhaness’ idea of putting together two different worlds in a simple, and therefore beautiful, way.

Sonata Ananda op. 303
Dedicated to Francis Bacon, the sonata opens with a contemplative andante (typical of Hovhaness late style). The second movement (Vision of a volcano mountain) is a big mkjtwo-parts piece (the first part being in e flat minor and the second in e flat major) alternating choral chords sections (marked “andante religioso”) with incandescent kanoon sections (Hovhaness writes “like a giant kanoon”). The humorous movement in 7/8 develops simple melodic material in a two part, intriguing fugue. The final movement (Vision of a starry night) is inspired by nature, but hides a precious, short ethereal jhala episode: “ananda” is a sanskrit word meaning “beatitude”, and these fourteen measures are trying to reach it. 

Sonata Mt.Katahdin op.405 

This is the last piano sonata composed by Hovhaness, completed on “25 Jan 1987”. The first movement alternates choral sections (with rhythmical variations) with kanoon-like episodes (the kanoon is an eastern zither), free in form. The subsequent lullaby is a simple melody accompained by two ostinato chords. After a short jhala, in the final “Maestoso tragico” dance rhythms alternate with the kanoon technique: until the end Hovhaness, tries to blend East and West in his unique way.

Prezzo: 16.90 EUR
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