From Beethoven to Hovhaness

May 21, 2009

The 20th century American composer Alan Hovhaness used nature as a symbol for the spiritual longing for the divine in his Symphony No. 2, "Mysterious Mountain."  This work from 1955 expresses this aspect of the composer's spiritual philosophy. He said of the title: "Mountains are symbols, like pyramids, of Man's attempt to know God.  Mountains are symbolic meeting places between the mundane and spiritual worlds." In music that combines diverse influences, from Renaissance polyphony to Far-Eastern musical systems,  Hovhaness takes us on a beautiful journey to that symbolic meeting place between Heaven and Earth.  Here, the mystical aspect of nature that may be implied in Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony is made explicit in music that sounds both old and new. There are a number of fine recordings of "Mysterious Mountain", including the one I played recently on Symphony at 7 with the Seattle Symphony and Gerard Schwarz, and there's the pioneering recording with The Chicago Symphony and Fritz Reiner from the 1950s.