Summer 2015 Rerun–Alan Hovhannes: Mysterious Mountain

I wonder whether I would have gotten through high school without having had classical music as a refuge. Why did I need consolation back then? Oh, I was always falling in love with some pretty face or other and usually made hash of it. The real knockout girls were all taken by the boys on the basketball and football teams. For the most part, they ignored us puny mesomorphs.

The Hippie girls wore army fatigues and smoked which was a turn off. The average girls whom I’d known since second grade were friendly, but they were almost like sisters and you couldn’t date them because of that. (They’d seen me throw up in seventh grade during math class!) That left the smart pretty girls, who seemed mature beyond their years and therefore tended to act aloof.

The smart girls, I imagine, were probably at war with their own raging hormones. Numerous studies have shown that girls in all-girls schools do better academically than those in mixed-sex schools. When they’re in co-ed schools, peer pressure and competition with boys (who are often rewarded by teachers-consciously or unconsciously-for being aggressive) they tend to dumb themselves down. The two times I tried dating smart girls in high school, I took one to a symphony concert and the other to an “intellectual” movie. Both dates went well, I thought, but I botched it on the goodnight kiss, and the girls ignored me after that.

What an inefficient way to continue a species!

We were all just fumbling around, and when you’re being jerked around by peer pressure and  hormones, it’s so easy to get hurt or hurt the very person who, ten years later, probably would turn out to the be the perfect match for you, after you’d both matured a bit.

One day in high school, for example, on a visit to the local public library to get a refill of classical music, I bumped into a classmate of mine, Jeff E**. Jeff had a perfect grade point average and was in the top ten per cent of the class academically (he’s now a doctor). I think his brother had been the valedictorian the year before. At the library that day, his kid sister was with him. I didn’t know her that well, but she seemed pleasant enough. I noticed that she carried a few classical albums under her arm.

Wow, I thought, we both like classical music. I bet we’d have a lot to talk about.  So for the first time, and one of the last times in my life, I used a line on a girl.

“Hey,” I said, “Do you like classical music, too?” I asked.

She fixed me with a cold eye and said: “I like serious music, classical time period. Then she turned on her heel and walked away. I imagine she still bemoans her cutting me to the quick twenty-five years ago. Not.

One album I used to console myself with after such rejections was Alan Hovhaness’ Mysterious Mountain. The library had a copy, which I used to check out quite often. Though composed in 1955, it sounds wonderfully unlike the “dissonant” atonal and anti-tonal music that was created during the middle part of the 20th century by mainstream “serious” composers. It is wonderfully orchestrated and though sounding somewhat oriental and using interesting chordal structures; it is very accessible indeed.

It is in three movements, the first of which always galvanized me when I heard it. It has a floating, airy feel to it, sounding a bit like a climb up a mountain. The strings accompany a solo horn then oboe which plays a kind of ethereal melody. To add to the mystery, a glockenspiel tinkles away at various points. The second movement starts out with a nice fugue which rolls along under its own steam as fugues do. Suddenly the orchestra resolves the feeling of that section and then launches into an incredibly fast, driving outpouring of notes lead by the strings. A rainstorm on the mountain, perhaps. The last movement starts out slowly with an eastern sounding melody played by the strings with a kind of Wagnerian chordal drone played by the horns in underneath. That drone is also heard in the first and second movements as well and that must symbolize the massiveness and solidity of the mountain. The piece ends up with a beautiful, spiritual sounding hymn, and then brings back the tinkling and solo horn from the first movement.

Oddly enough, though it has an oriental feel to it–which I think might be a result of Hovhaness’ Scotch-Armenian background or his love of 15th and 16th century polyphony–I do not find this piece sad. Maybe it’s the spiritual dimension. Hovhaness said, commenting on the piece, that “mountains are symbolic meeting places between the mundane and the spiritual worlds.” Some people are soothed by things spiritual, some galvanized, but all are energized. And that is why I think it qualifies for today’s piece.

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About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

12 Responses to Summer 2015 Rerun–Alan Hovhannes: Mysterious Mountain

  1. kvennarad says:

    Thank you for posting this and alerting me to Alan Hovhaness, who, until now, has only been a name to me, when in fact he is probably the USA’s most prolific composer. This particular piece reminds me a lot of 20c English Romanticism, and I want to hear more.

    Like

    • kurtnemes says:

      You live in Edinburgh, right? Do you know this person and her blog? https://leapingtracks.wordpress.com/

      Like

      • kvennarad says:

        No, Dundee, and no I don’t, but I’ll take a wee keek at it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • kurtnemes says:

        Is that near the Castle ARRRRrrrrggggghhh…….?

        Like

      • kvennarad says:

        Three shall be the number of thy counting, and the number of thy counting shall be three…

        Liked by 1 person

      • kurtnemes says:

        Five is right out.

        Liked by 1 person

      • kvennarad says:

        We were both close…

        Liked by 1 person

      • kurtnemes says:

        I know. I checked it, too. Are there any comics on your side of the pond these days that are as brilliant as MP was?

        Like

      • kvennarad says:

        This isn’t the 1970s, of course, so we don’t have a direct equivalent. In the 1980s we had ‘The Young Ones’ starring Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer, Adrian Edmondson, and Christopher Ryan. It was all about a quartet of house-sharing students.Now that sounds like a bare sitcom, but it wasn’t. A character might walk around for a whole episode with an axe in his head, or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse might appear, or a wall might fall down to reveal an ancient Russian couple warming their hands round a candle…

        I would say the comedy writing of Armando Ianucci (he’s Scottish, by the way!) is fairly brilliant. He was responsible for the political satire ‘The Thick Of It’, which featured foul-mouthed political aparatchiks based on the Labour Party ‘spin doctors’ of the mid-noughties.

        For sheer black surrealism, however, I would say that Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith have to take the prize. Collectively known as ‘The League of Gentlemen’ they are responsible for such series as ‘Psychoville’ and ‘Inside No. 9’, in both of which they play multiple characters. Steve Pemberton is actually quite a brilliant actor, and has appeared in serious drama series too.

        It is almost impossible to describe ‘Psychoville’, but it is basically a series of interlinked stories surrounding bizarre deaths. Any one of the characters portrayed would be twisted enough to have committed them, but more often than not, the weirder the character, the more innocent – there’s an embittered clown with a hook for a hand, a baby-obsessed nurse, a rather creepy, almost incestuous mother-and-son team…

        The latter are brilliant. One of the episodes of ‘Psychoville’ adapts, as its vehicle, the ‘sitting-room sitcom’ format, having one set, one sofa, and two doors, and what they actually do with that pastiche is worth a standing ovation. Here’s a clip (the guy at the end is actor/comic-actor/director/writer Mark Gatiss, who was responsible for some ‘Dr Who’ episodes). Don’t ask me what is actually going on:

        ‘Inside No. 9’ is a series of stand-alone plays, each of which takes place in something with the number 9 as a designation – a house, a cubicle, a train compartment. Each has a vein of humour running through it, but also something bizarre, and often horrific. The plot usually has more twists than the Goods Outwards department of a spiral staircase factory.

        ‘Psychoville’ is available on YouTube, as is ‘League of Gentlemen’ – the eponymous comedy featuring the team. ‘Inside No.9’ isn’t at present.

        The original ‘League of Gentlemen’ included the scary ‘Papa Lazarou’ – this creation sailed close to the wind by using blackface, although in a very bizarre way. This doesn’t have quite the same cultural implications in the UK as it does in the US; in the case of Papa Lazarou, it is part of his strangeness – along with calling everyone ‘Dave’ (especially his collection of ‘wives’), his gold tooth and rings, his Romany-showman personality. He is a truly scary creation.

        ‘League of Gentlemen’ started life on the radio, and I was glued to it because it stimulated my imagining what the characters actually looked like. The TV show was a complete surprise.

        Like

      • kurtnemes says:

        Wow. Thank you for the links. Never head of them, so I’m looking forward to watching them. The young ones were broadcast here in the late 80s or early 90s. I loved the talking glurp in the bathtub. Back in the 00s, a friend who lived overseas for a couple of years brought back Father Ted, Alan Partridge, and the Office. They never made it to US television–would have been too over the top. My British ex grew up with Ronnie Howerd, George Formsby, and the Goons, and the latter was on the radio here in the 70s. Loved Hitchhiker’s radio which some stations carried here in the 80s. What ever happened to Alexie Sayles? Oh, of course, my kids and I adore Eddie–have you got a flag, cake or death–Izzard. But again, that’s a bit dated. Here, the comedians are mostly male and crass. I did go see Jeneane Garofalo last week, who does very nice rants about NYC. https://youtu.be/6TYc-WJOXH0

        Like

      • kvennarad says:

        You’re probably thinking of Frankie Howerd, who is best known for the series ‘Up Pompeii’ – that started out as a sitcom version of Plautus, but ended up as typical bums-and-tits British humour. Nevertheless, Frankie had a way of involving the audience that was inimitable…

        “Eh? No, listen, listen! Oh, please yourselves…”

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Firstly, thanks for the reference to my blog to your other commentator – that is much appreciated. More importantly, back to your post – ah, the agonies of growing up and trying to form relationships! I winced through your eloquent and all too familiar (from a girl’s perspective) description. Although I did play sports, the fact that I was learning the violin and stuff like that made me seem nerdy, I think. I was definitely not one of the cool ones. I can see why you found refuge in this piece, though. What a beauty. Yes, climbing a mountain definitely – it does have a Germanic or Austrian feel about it, doesn’t it. Dare I say almost a Tolkein-like sense of nature-filled early optimism? It’s great and one I will add to my wish-list.

    Liked by 1 person

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