Notes on Symphony #2 “Mysterious Mountain” by Alan Hovhaness 2022 Music Selection

This is what the composer, Alan Hovhaness said about his piece:  “Mountains are symbols, like pyramids, of man’s attempt to know God…mountains are symbolic meeting places between the mundane and the spiritual world.” (CD program notes, Telarc CD 80604)

Alan Hovhaness was born in Massachusetts in 1911. His father was Armenian. His mother was Scottish. Both parents were very concerned that their particular heritage would be continued through their son. This multicultural conflict may have influenced Hovhaness in his international multicultural musical and compositional interests. It also may have influenced his love of nature. As a boy, he could escape the tension that he experienced from these agendas by walking in the mountains. He began to compose at the age of seven. His early music reflected his preference for Armenian medieval liturgical music. As an adult he also cultivated an interest in Indian, Japanese, and Chinese music. Much of his music blends the mystical music of the West with the Oriental traditions and his personal love of nature. This is reflected in the selection, “Mysterious Mountain”. (CD program notes by Marvin Rosen, KOCH 3-7208-2HI)

Program Notes

This is the composer’s second symphony. The music was commissioned by Leopold Stokowski for his debut with the Houston Symphony in 1955. It was recorded by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony in 1956. It is organized in three sections that are highly emotional and imaginative, but not programmatic. Marsh commented in 1956 “Mysterious Mountain is powerfully evocative music that invites the mind to pursue imagery and fantasy. For me this is the mountain of the blue moon that soars above the Shangri-La of Lost Horizon, the place where the world cannot intrude and beauty and reason prevail.” (CD program notes, RCA 5733-2C)

The Symphony No. 2, Mysterious Mountain is in three parts:

1. Andante: 5:58
2. Double Fugue: 5:31
3. Andante Espressivo: 5:19

Music Appreciation

Objective: The students will listen to a movement quietly at the beginning of school or after an outside activity or period.

Lesson Suggestion: This is ideal quiet time, relaxation-type music. Students can listen to a movement of this symphony quietly at their desks. This increases their listening skills and gives them a chance to set their imaginations free to wander in response to the music.

Objective: Students respond to the music and share their impressions of what lies behind the music.

Lesson Suggestion: Play the music and facilitate a discussion regarding “How does it move?…What do the mountains look like?…Where are they?…What three words describe the first movement?…” etc.

Lesson Suggestion: Provide a trail map or locate a map on the Internet and challenge the students to find the most direst route to the peak.