Alan Hovhaness/Komitas Vartabed – piano music

Alan Hovhaness/Komitas Vartabed - piano music LP front cover
Alan Hovhaness/Komitas Vartabed - piano music LP back cover
Alan Hovhaness/Komitas Vartabed - piano music LP side 2
Alan Hovhaness/Komitas Vartabed - piano music LP insert 1

Possibly disillusioned by his experience with several Metro Goldwin Mayer LP releases of the late 1950s, US composer Alan Hovhaness (see previous post) launched his own label in 1963 as a way to regain total artistic control over his recorded output. Poseidon Society lasted 10 years and published 15 discs of Hovhaness’ music, all with the same, generic black and white drawing on the front cover. With all the distribution and promotion burden that such venture implies, Poseidon Society recalls Harry Partch’s Gate 5 Records of the 1950s.

Released around 1965 and oddly pressed in mono, this disc, #7 in the series, pairs some piano music by Armenian composer and priest Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935) and a piano sonata by Hovhaness himself, both played by the later. Komitas’ music (note: Vartabed means Bearded Man, that is, priest) is inspired by Armenian folk tunes, the score and interpretation clearly retaining some of the rusticity of the original folk instruments and melodies. This is simple, pastoral music that doesn’t require advanced skills from the pianist – indeed, some of these short pieces seem to be played with 2 fingers only.

Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935)Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935)

[Komitas] lost his mind around 1917 because of the tragedy of the Armenians. The piano pieces I recorded recently are all his piano music. They are these wonderful six dances. They were written, I believe, just before he lost his mind. When they found him after the war he didn’t know who he was and they had to take him to an asylum in Paris. He stayed there until his death in 1935, but there was a long period there when he was unable to work or do anything. He didn’t even know who he was.
[from 1971 interview]

While during the 1940s Hovhaness had researched Armenian music, in the 1960s he was exploring the Far East traditions. In 1959, he visited India, studying South Indian music in Madras ; he lived in Japan from 1960 to 1962, where he studied Gagaku and Ah-ak, the ancient court music of Korea ; in 1965, he visited Moscow and Leningrad, and later Tiflis, Baku and Erevan. The elegant, exotic-sounding Fantasy for Piano on this disc is derived from Indian raga music (compare with Kartik Tivedi Indian Raga Music On Piano).

01 Alan Hovhaness Fantasy for Piano (19:28)
02 Komitas Vartabed Six Dances for Piano (15:40)

Alan Hovhaness, piano

Total time 35:10
LP released by Poseidon Society, USA, 1965?


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9 Responses to “Alan Hovhaness/Komitas Vartabed – piano music”

  1. 1 Matt May 19, 2011 at 7:58 am

    Thanks to your previous post regarding Alan Hovhaness (St. Vartan Symphony) I have been absolutely hooked on him. Another great post, sir!

  2. 2 continuo May 19, 2011 at 8:31 am

    Hi, Matt. The Vartabed piece on this disc is arguably the most primitive-sounding piano playing I’ve ever heard, and I mean it in a good way. Hovhaness is great, both as composer and interpret. Thanks for your comment.

  3. 3 Stevan, Belgrade May 21, 2011 at 10:51 am

    After 30 second listening..not overwhelming. There is little resemblance (six dances) on Pascal Comelade “toy piano” or maybe some lp from Pierre Bastien. I’ll listen it thoroughly later…
    Greetings from Belgrade

  4. 4 continuo May 21, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    Hi, Stevan. Comparing Hovhaness and Vartabed to any other composer is rather pointless, in my opinion. Both are pretty unique. Hope you’ll enjoy the rest of the record, eventually.

  5. 5 Stevan, Belgrade May 21, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    After some more concentrated (with one eye and ear on my 3-years old son climbing and hanging all over the place) listening I must say this is a very very good record. Some fragments are excellent..

  6. 6 kramden May 6, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    Thanks for the re-up! A great recording.

  7. 7 continuo May 6, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    Re-uploaded by Max on April 21, 2012.

  8. 8 couillon November 16, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    Could you re-upload this ? Thank you for the great music.

  9. 9 Hayk Arsenyan February 6, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    I could not access this recording for some reason, but would love to hear it. Could you possibly send this to me in an email?
    I would greatly appreciate it if you could!
    Thanks so much!

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