American Composer Alan Hovhaness Dies At 89

Inspired by nature, he wrote thousands of works and melded Eastern, Western musical styles.

Alan Hovhaness, a prolific American composer who was deeply inspired by nature and melded Eastern and Western musical styles to create a unique mystical music, died on Wednesday in Seattle. He was 89.

According to the Seattle Times, Hovhaness died at Swedish Medical Center after a long period of ill health.

Hovhaness wrote more music in his lifetime than almost any composer since the days of Haydn. Among his literally thousands of compositions are symphonies, oratorios, operas, ballets, choral works, concertos, chamber works, songs and piano music, as well as pieces written for Eastern ethnic instruments. He was the first Western composer asked to write music for an orchestra composed entirely of Indian instruments.

Virtually all of Hovhaness' major compositions are religious or mystical in tone, often taking the beauty and power of nature as a theme. But his output was nonetheless quite emotionally varied, with tranquility, fear, ecstasy, mystery and chaos all finding voice in his harmonic, contrapuntal compositions.

"The moments of chaos were very well planned," said Seattle Symphony Music Director Gerard Schwarz, who premiered and recorded numerous works by Hovhaness with his orchestra. "And they existed, because he very often wrote about nature. So if he's writing about the eruption of a mountain, you can be sure that that is not something that is docile and gorgeous. "But basically it was a beautiful music, very harmonically based, and very listenable."

Some of Hovhaness' compositions include Symphony No. 2, ("Mysterious Mountain"); Lousadzak (1944), for piano and orchestra; Wind Drum (1962), a music-dance drama; And God Created the Great Whales (1970), for a taped humpback-whale solo; and The Way of Jesus (1974), a folk Mass.

Alan Hovhaness was born Alan Vaness Chakmakjian, in Somerville, Mass., in 1911. His mother was Scottish and his father was Armenian.

He demonstrated musical precocity at an early age, composing and devising his own method of notation by the age of 5. He began studying piano three years later. In 1932, he went to the New England Conservatory on a scholarship, where he studied composition with Frederick Converse.

While Hovhaness' early compositions were thoroughly Western and used an early Renaissance style, later in his life he became influenced by Eastern musical styles, particularly those of Korea and Japan.

Hovhaness is survived by his wife, Hinako Fujihara Hovhaness, and by a daughter, Jean Nandi, a Berkeley, Calif., harpsichordist.