Notes on Solos Duos Trios
Artinis is representative of his Armenian period of the 1940s, written in the monophonic style of Middle Eastern zither and lute music. Bardo Sonata's three movements have, successively: melodic fragments and senza misura outbursts above clusters; a delicate treble melody with a melodic counterpoint to it in the left hand; and a somber, largely monophonic, ending. Influences of the composer's travels to study ancient court music in Japan and Korea are evident in his three-movement Sonatina. The Three Haikus present elements of gagaku and gamelan, concluding with a plaintive modal melody that creates its own ethereal accompaniment by exciting harmonics in the bass strings.
Sonata Ricercare explores in depth the contrapuntal possibilities inherent in a single musical subject.
Passacaglia in Canon: the main theme is the ostinato. The 14 variations (a possible nod to Bach since B+A+C+H=14) feature two voices imitating each other, at varying intervals in each variation.
Mirror fugue: the complete score can be inverted without loss of musicality. The rectus (normal) and inversus (upside-down) versions are played back to back. Same main theme as other movements.
Fugue: The same main theme as that of the other movements is treated here as a simple monothematic 4-voice fugue.
All the above techniques can also be found in Bach's Art of the Fugue, which contains 14 fugues.
Poseidon Sonata: Hovhaness named his own record company "Poseidon", and his so-called "spiritual teacher" was a mystic painter interested in ancient Greece. His father was shipwrecked in the Poseidon while immigrating to the U.S. Melodic and dynamic undulations reminiscent of turbulent waves.
Trio I (1935)
Has classical and baroque elements. The middle section of the second movement is a double canon, where the soprano and alto voices in the piano imitate each other in a canon while at the same time the violin and cello imitate each other using a melody unrelated to that in the piano part. Dedicated to Sibelius. Traveled to Finland about this time to meet him.
Sonata Ricercare (1935)
"Ricercare" has the same root as "research" and refers to exploring the contrapuntal possibilities of a single theme. In the first movement, this theme appears as the bass cantus firmus slowly repeated fifteen times. The passacaglia's variations are handled by the soprano and alto voices, the latter faithfully mimicking the latter. The first variation is a "Canone alla quarta" in which the alto's imitation is a fourth lower than the soprano; the next a "Canone alla segunda" with a drop of a second; each time the interval of imitation changes. The variations are fourteen in number in a possible nod to Bach, who favored the number as the sum of the letters in his name and used it to structure compositions. The second movement employs the same theme in a two-voiced mirror fugue, first played normally and then repeated with the score turned upside down. The third movement is a four-voiced fugue with the same theme.
From his "Armenian period." Complaining of not being able to write interesting music for the piano, he followed a painter friend's advice to treat the piano as a kanun, or Turkish zither. As the first movement is indicated "Lutelike", perhaps here he had in mind the baglama, or Turkish lute. Modal, monophonic piano writing similar to that of Janabar.
Elements of "contemporary Western music," tone clusters and senza misura, are prominent in certain passages of the first movement. Hovhaness invented the senza misura technique, where no bars are written, and speed and timing are at the discretion of each performer. While not obvious in a solo piece, it creates unique textures in orchestral writing and is said to prefigure Cage's aleatoric writing.
The second movement features delicate counterpoint.
The somber third movement is largely monophonic, at times with a drone, using ancient church modes. It begins in Mode II (Dorian), then shifts to Mode V (Mixolydian) then drifts back to Mode II before wandering eventually to the second mode of the melodic minor scale. An unusual feature of the piano writing is that many notes are held and reappear multiple times with with melodic and rhythmic function, but only as shadows of their original selves.
Entire piece senza misura. Dies Irae quote near the end, after the dramatic clusters.
Studied traditional music in India, Korea and Japan. First trip to Japan 1960.
Three Haikus (1965)
First Haiku: Japanese-sounding, and recognizably so to the Japanese ear. Three phrases, though of 5, 7 and 7 notes, unlike the 5-7-5 syllables of haiku poetry.
Second Haiku: the opening bears a striking similarity to the Debussy's imitation of gamelan music in his "Pagodes."
Third Haiku: There are three bass-chord sequences--this time, they neatly number 5, 7 and 5. Each final bass chord is held long after its attack has died down. A plaintive modal melody creates its own ethereal accompaniment by exciting harmonics in the bass strings.
White Cat: (1973)
From an email from theremin player Rom Chiaki:
"I was surprised at how the piece sounded like Japanese music. Recently I have been working with a koto player, and it exerts a strange fascination when she plays Western classics, and here I felt I was seeing the opposite, also fascinating: traditional Japanese music on Western instruments."