Alan Hovhaness was an Armenian-American composer of classical music. He made a name for himself as an original and prolific artist in 20th century America.


He was born Alan Vaness Chakmakjian in Somerville, Massachusetts, in 1911. His father was an Armenian from the Ottoman Empire and his mother was Scottish.

Claim to fame

Hovhaness introduced a new type of composition to the scene of American classical music. Besides being famously prolific and producing hundreds of works – and thousands more he claimed to have destroyed by burning them – he is known for his novel use of eastern melodies, influenced by his Armenian heritage and by travels to India and Korea.

What he said

"When I was growing up, my father had this wonderful record of choral music by the Armenian composer Komitas. To me, he's the original minimalist, and it was through Komitas that I got the idea of saying as much as possible with the fewest possible notes."

"I propose to create a heroic, monumental style of composition simple enough to inspire all people, completely free from fads, artificial mannerisms and false sophistications, direct, forceful, sincere, always original but never unnatural. Music must be freed from decadence and stagnation.”

“I’ve always regarded nature as the clothing of God.”

What others said

"… The high quality of this music, the purity of its inspiration, is evidenced by the extreme beauty of its melodic material (which is original material, not collected folklore) and in the perfect sweetness of taste that it leaves in the mouth. There is no vulgarity in it, nothing meretricious, silly, easy, or of low intent. It brings delight to the ear and pleasure to the thought.” – Virgil Thomson, writer and composer

“…One of the most prolific composers of the twentieth century…” – Kristen Grimshaw

Noteworthy work