“My purpose is to create music not for snobs but for all people, music which is beautiful and healing.” These words of composer Alan Hovhaness appear in a short presentation of a recently released CD. It is the second recording that pianist Alessandra Pompili has produced of his piano works and it is clear that she shares the composer’s approach to music.
In her introduction, she explains that she had always incorporated contemporary music into her recitals, but Hovhaness appealed to her in particular because of her interest in the “relationship between music and silence.” His works, she finds, are conducive to this approach. “Performing, for me,” she explains, “is not only enjoying wonderful music but also presenting something that will make the audience want to go back to that experience again and again.”
It was Martin Berkofsky, an “advocate of Hovhaness’s music,” who introduced her to the Armenian composer. He would send her scores of the works from his home in Virginia, and she started incorporating them into her performances. Then, like Berkofsky, she too began premiering some of his compositions in Europe. Her first CD, “Alan Hovhaness: Piano Works,” appeared in 2014, and included Shalimar and Cougar Mountain Sonata.
The new recording is titled, “Alan Hovhaness, Piano Works vol. 2 – Journeying over Land and Through Space.” The five selections reflect, in fact, three countries (Ossetia, Japan, and Greece) and two spatial dimensions; the former include Fantasy on an Ossetin Tune Op. 85, Komachi Op. 240, No. 1-7, and Greek Rhapsody No. 1 Op. 63. In the voyage through conceptual/astronomical space the music takes us to Hermes Stella Op. 247 I, II, and on a Journey to Arcturus Op. 354 I-VI. “So this is a journey to very uncommon destinations,” the pianist noted in an understatement.
A Multilingual Musical Universe
Even for the non-specialist listener (like this writer), it becomes clear that we are moving from one musical culture to another, when, after hearing the Fantasy inspired by Ossetia, we know that with Kamachi we have entered a Japanese cultural realm, with its ancient sages ascending steep mountains. The seven short pieces in this section, ranging from one to two minutes each, are sound images, distinct vignettes or cameos, reminiscent (like many of Hovhaness’s compositions) of the works of Komitas. Though uttered by the same compositional voice, the Greek Rhapsody that concludes the recording speaks another, different language. It moves from treble melodies and accelerating rhythms to the poignant, emotionally diverse “Farewell song of a boy who must go to war,” to a brief march-like conclusion, Revolution. As Kansas State University professor Dr. Craig Parker has put it, Hovhaness was “a musical polyglot,” who was capable of composing in a wide variety of idioms, having become intimately familiar with the musical traditions (and instruments) of numerous countries.