Alan Hovhaness’s Armenian period : the functional use of melody in a non-harmonic context
This paper examines the role of melody in four of Alan Hovhaness’s compositions written during his Armenian period (1943-1951). Criticized for being too simple and melody-focused, these pieces were composed during a time when complexity and atonality were the leading trends in mid-20th century music. When analyzed using the Armenian scale structures outlined by Armenian folk archivist Komitas Vardapet, however, Hovhaness’s music reveals melody to be a central tool in creating complex forms. The forms I derive in each piece are based on shifting modal centers using a bi-tetrachordal scale system. Hovhaness’s melodies may appear simple at first, but, as I show in my analysis of Lousadzak and the three Armenian Rhapsodies, these melodies are used to smoothly change modal centers, to create contrasting colors and moods, and to combine triadic and modal sonorities. Hovhaness used melody in such an elegant manner that the changes in modal tonic, color, and tonal sonorities are not aurally obvious or abrupt. My analysis of Lousadzak and the Armenian Rhapsodies shows that melody is not a simplistic feature, but a complex tool used to tie together discrete forms, unrecognizable in a Western theoretical analysis.
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