Here is one of the earlier and best recordings offering up a couple of Hovhaness's masterful, flowing and glittering, astral traveling-like Symphonies for Band. Symphony No. 20 "Three Journeys to a Holy Mountain" is recorded here, however it is the "original" third movement only, which is a stand-alone work. Happily Naxos has recorded the symphony in its entirety, with the revised finale-also conducted by Keith Brion, the director on this priceless Delos production. Also included is the incidental music to "The Flowering Peach", a play by Clifford Odets. The Flowering Peach was a great success for Hovhaness; it ran for 135 performances at Broadway's Belasco Theatre. "Star Dawn", Symphony No. 53 is short (just shy of 14 minutes!) however during its brief duration, one truly feels as if the Earth is far away, perhaps faintly within view from whatever cosmic landscape Hovhaness's has taken us to. It's an oddly beautiful, floating score, and the (AH signature) employment of bells further adds to the mystical departure, journey, and arrival. Literally it's a "small masterpiece". The same can be said, imo, for the longer Symphony No. 29 for Trombone and Band and the Symphony No. 20. Hovhaness's music for winds/band/brass speaks in another language, a language he clearly loves-and it is one that Hovhaness seems truly comfortable using for some of his greatest possible expression.
Deep into space a spirit rises in its quest for truth. Ever higher it ascends toward the heavens, leaving earth and earth's moon in shadow. Darting comets sprinkle fragments of light like jewel dust, illuminating the path through "invisible vault beyond the stars, to the essential heaven of Light and Love". (The final two levels of Dante's ascent into heaven) Beyond each successive horizon glow new worlds, each a milestone along the path to enlightenment: Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the constellation of Gemini (Dante's ordering of the planets, the traveller is Dante Alighieri and the journal of his travels is The Divine Comedy.
In Symphony No. 53, "Star Dawn" Hovhaness makes a similar journey and quest. Commissioned by and dedicated to Charles D. Yates and the San Diego State University Wind Ensemble, the symphony was completed in July of 1983 and premiered in February of 1990 by the Yale University Concert Band, Thomas Duffy conducting. The composition derives its inspiration from Dante's monumental work, particularly from part 3, "Paradiso". Hovhaness explains: "The thought for the symphony initiated with a phrase from Dante, "star dawn", which suggested traveling in space. Bells symbolize the stars, long flowing melodies create a sense of journey, and great chorales symbolize humankind. My life-long interest in astronomy has suggested the thought that and hope that we may colonize Mars. As we overcrowd the Earth, we must eventually confront this issue. Mars, although cold, seems to have a climate which may make this possible."
Keith Brion offers, with the composer's sanction the following note as an interpretive guide:
"1st movement - A powerful opening theme urgently suggests a grand departure from the Earth. Fugal clarinets intimate the coldness of space. A hymn for safe deliverance of humankind is intoned, as a solitary soul (solo clarinets) begins winding through the stars (bells and chimes). In the heavens, gravity disappears (undulating clarinet chords), as a floating trumpet melody introduces weightlessness. The opening theme returns, triumphally indicating a successful landing. 2nd movement - A solo saxophone tests the strange gravity as man begins to adapt to a new planet. A brief chorale symbolizes successful ascent into the heavens. Trumpets begin to intone a long, graceful and nearly weightless hymn to their newly found world. Suddenly, the stars shine brightly in a new sky, as the symphony majestically concludes."
Initially I was going to post a disc on Crystal that has AH's Symphony No. 23 "Ani" as well as the rare "Spirit of Ink" for Three Flutes. The mystery now, however, is that I left the cd on my bed and it has decided to float away-and I looked everywhere (not difficult in an apartment that could easily double as a matchbox) and still it's gone. "Star Dawn" is clearly toying around with the gravitational pull, I have no doubts about it. Been listening to it all day.
The composer's grasp of the long-lined vocal style is nowhere more evident than in his Symphony No. 29 for Baritone Horn/Trombone and Band. It's original incarnation, in 1976, was for orchestra and soloist. In March of the following year Hovhaness made the version for winds and soloist heard here. Henry Charles Smith (who commissioned the work, along with C.G. Conn, Ltd.) premiered the version for baritone horn and orchestra with the Minnesota Orchestra and the band version at the National Music Camp at Interlochen. Once again, Hovhaness took his inspiration for the Symphony from nature. Two mountains were the focus of his attention: Mount Baker and Mount Rainer, the latter known to the composer by its 'Indian' name, Tahoma. Once an avid mountain climber, Hovhaness has long been impressed by the beauty and grandeur of the Cascades, which, as he points out, are portrayed in this music by means of "giant melodic lines".
"The Flowering Peach" (1954) is a concert suite for chamber ensemble (alto saxophone, clarinet, harp, and varied percussion) drawn from Hovanhess's incidental music to Clifford Odet's fanciful serio-comic Broadway play that retells the familiar Biblical story of Noah and the ark with an irreverently humorous twist. The saxophone is the voice of Noah, portrayed in the play as a boozy visionary. In the course of its seven short movements (plus overture), the music sustains a sense of wonderment and magic, and it is is impressionistically descriptive in several places-as in the "Building of the ark" movement where one can hear the 'blows' of the hammers on nails, and the magical "Rain" movement, where harp, timpani and glockenspiel conspire to evoke a grey melancholy of musical raindrops and other fluid sounds.
"Grand Final Processional" (originally the third movement of Symphony No. 20 of 1968) was inspired by Mount Blackomb, and is a grand pilgrim's march in the form of a fugal chorale prelude. It was commissioned by Ronal Soccarelli and the Ithaca New York High School Band.