Alan Hovhaness Biography

Alan Hovhaness was one of the famous composers of 20th century.Read on to know more about Alan Hovhaness’s profile, childhood, life and timeline in this biography.

Alan Hovhaness

Quick Facts

Gender: Male
Birthday: 08 March 1911
Died: 21 June 2000
Nationality: American
Sun Sign: Pisces
Education: Tufts University
Awards: John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship

Alan Hovhaness is one of the most prolific performers of 20th century whose official catalogue comprised 67 symphonies and 434 opus numbers, the total make up to 500 works. He is the recipient of numerous awards including an honorary degree. Born of Armenian descent, Hovhaness was interested in music even from an early age. Hovhaness did is first composition at the age of four and was inspired by Franz Schubert. In 1932, he won the Conservatory's Samuel Endicott prize for composing a symphony entitled, ‘Sunset Symphony’. In 1936, he attended a performance in Boston by Uday Shankar, an Indian dance troupe which developed an interest in Indian music. Very less of his works are known to the outer world as he himself destroyed many of his works as he claimed that the decision was the result of a criticism regarding his works. Hovhaness also developed interest in Armenian culture and music and worked as an organist for St. James Armenian Apostolic Church in Watertown, Massachusetts where he remained for the next ten years. Hovhaness’s first work which made use of an innovative technique was ‘Lousadzak’. The technique involved instruments which repeated phrases in uncoordinated fashion which led to the producing of a ‘carpet’ of sounds. In 1946, Hovhaness composed Etchmiadzin, an Armenian themed opera which was commissioned by a local Armenian church. The year 1948 also witnessed him joining Boston Conservatory where he taught till 1951. In 1951, Hovhaness moved to the New York City where he became a full-time composer. Hovhaness also worked for Voice of America where he joined as script writer, director, composer and musical consultant. Hovhaness’s biggest breakthrough came through his Symphony No. 2, ‘Mysterious Mountain’ which has its premiere by Leopold Stokowski. In 1963, he came up with his second ballet score for Martha Graham, namely, ‘Grace’. He also established a record label to release his own works namely Poseidon Society. Hovhaness was honored when was inducted into National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1951 and received an honorary degree from the Boston Conservatory, Bates College and University of Rochester. Hovhaness passed away on 21 June, 2000 in Seattle due to a prolonged stomach ailment. He is survived by coloratura soprano Hinako Fujihara Hovhaness and a daughter Jean Nandi.

Major Works

Prelude and Quadruple Fugue (orchestra), Op. 128 ), 1936
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 17, 1936
Mihr (for two pianos), 1945
Prayer of St. Gregory, Op. 62b, for trumpet and strings (interlude from the opera Etchmiadzin), 1946
Arjuna (Symphony No. 8) for piano, timpani and orch., Op. 179, 1947
St. Vartan Symphony (No. 9), Op. 180, 1949-50
Meditation on Orpheus, Op. 155, 1958
Magnificat (SATB soli, SATB choir and orchestra), Op. 157, 1958
Guitar Concerto No. 2 for guitar and strings, Op. 394, 1985

Awards and Achievements

American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1977
Received honorary D.Mus. degrees from the University of Rochester (1958), Bates College (1959) and the Boston Conservatory (1987).

Legacy and Contributions

Hovhaness has to his credit, almost 400 works which includes operas, symphonies, concertos, oratorios, chamber works and orchestral pieces. He incorporated Indian, Japanese, Korean and Armenian influences into the music which was later described as world classical music. The archives of his scores, recordings, photographs and correspondence are available at Harvard University, University of Washington, Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and Yerevan’s State Museum of Arts and Literature in Armenia.


Hovhaness has a daughter by the name Jean Nandi.


1911: Hovhaness was born in Somerville, Massachusetts on 8 March.
1930: Hovhaness’s mother passed following which he started using the surname ‘hovaness’ in honour of his paternal grandfather.
1948: Hovhaness joined the faculty of the Boston Conservatory, remaining there till 1951.
1951: Hovhaness relocated to New York, where he took up full-time composing, he was also inducted into the National Institute of Arts and Letters.
1955: Hovhaness’s largest breakthrough came through Symphony No. 2, Mysterious Mountain.
1958: Hovhaness received D.Mus. Degree from the University of Rochester.
2000: Hovhaness passed away on 21 June 2000 in Seattle in Washington.

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Alan Hovhaness Biography

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Last Updated

May 30, 2019

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