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Alan Hovahness, Symphony No.48, Visions Of Andromeda

3 weeks ago


Hovhaness’ Symphony No.48 was composed in 1981, as a commission from Leonard Slatkin for the Minnesota Orchestra. The work was premiered on June 21, 1982, during the New World Festival in Miami by the same orchestra and conductor. Hovhaness had a lifelong interest in Astronomy, being inspired by the Andromeda galaxy with its wonders and mysteries.

The first movement is built around a main theme, not following any real standard structure. It begins with a giant hymn presented by violas over rhythm cycles of the percussion and a “spirit murmur” in violins. A gamelan-like percussive passage comes, like rivers of stars going through the galaxy. The oboe takes the theme over the pizzicatos of the strings, adding an oriental flavour to the music. The whole orchestra rises in a powerful climax. The flute takes the hymn in a gentle and lyrical recapitulation. The clarinet joins in a delicate dialogue, followed by the oboe. The gamelan-like percussive section is heard again as a coda, before the music dissolves into silence.

The second movement consist of a short fugue. A vivacious theme of epic nature is the subject presented by the violins, before it goes to the basses. As the music slowly becomes more solemn and dignified, the music rises in a brilliant climax in an orchestral tutti. A massive coda ends the movement forcefully.

The third movement is monothematic in form. It begins gracefully, the bassoon presents an oriental melismatic hymn as the main theme. Pizzicatos of the strings leads to a solo of the flute, taking this hymn in a dance-like variation, with the support of the string’s pizzicatos. The music suddenly vanishes without a real ending.

The fourth movement is very free in form. It opens with a massive and brilliant hymn, presented by the whole orchestra and perhaps representing the splendour of the stars. The clarinet follows in a delicate solo based on the hymn. Follows a gamelan percussive passage, creating star-like rivers of sound. A lyrical second hymn-like theme is presented by the violins. The gamelan is repeated by the percussion before the horns present a solemn motif, which becomes the subject of a majestic fugue on the strings. It quickly transforms into a heavenly chorale, which slowly rises towards a grand alleluia-like climax. The symphony ends with a gamelan of stars, going out into the universe.

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