Composers Datebook

Hovhaness and the world's biggest vocal soloist

Alan Hovhaness (1911 - 2000): And God Created Great Whales (Seattle Symphony; Gerard Schwarz, cond.) Delos DE-3157

Composer's Datebook - June 11, 2021


June 11, 2021


On this date in 1970, the New York Philharmonic, led by Andre Kostelanetz, introduced the world’s largest vocal soloists in the premiere performance of “And God Created Great Whales,” by American composer Alan Hovhaness.

The New York Times review found the music accompanying the recorded songs of whales “fairly inconsequential,” but pleasant enough.  “Faced with such an irresistible soloist,’ the review continued, “Mr. Hovhaness must have suspected he would be harpooned.  But with his customary skill he put up a battle . . . conjuring up the sea by unmeasured bowing and overlapping patterns and setting brass and percussion to echoing the real thing.”

Hovhaness died on June 21, 2000 at the age of 89, having written over 500 works, including 67 symphonies. He once said, “I’m very happy if somebody else likes [my music], but I don’t mind if anybody doesn’t, and I don’t have ANY respect for critics.”

Hovhaness did have his champions, like Leopold Stokowski, who asked him for a new symphony in the early 1950’s.  Hovhaness said Stokowski asked him to give it a title, since people liked titles. So Hovhaness called his new symphony, “Mysterious Mountain.”  Stokowski was pleased – and right. “Mysterious Mountain” went on to become Hovhaness’s best-known work.

Music Played in Today's Program

Alan Hovhaness (1911 - 2000): And God Created Great Whales (Seattle Symphony; Gerard Schwarz, cond.) Delos DE-3157

On This Day


  • 1864 - German composer and conductor Richard Strauss, in Munich;

  • 1899 - American composer George Frederick McKay, in Harrington, Wash.;

  • 1926 - American opera composer Carlisle Floyd, in Latta, S.C.;


  • 1913 - Pizetti: incidental music for "La Pisanella," in Paris;

  • 1921 - Honegger: cantata "Le Roi David" (King David), in Mézières;

  • 1925 - Honegger: opera "Judith" (1st version), at the Théatre du Jorat in Mézières im Waadt;

  • 1960 - Britten: opera "A Midsummer Night's Dream," in Aldeburgh at the Jubilee Hall;

  • 1960 - Stockhausen: "Kontakte" for electronic instruments, piano and percussion, in Cologne;

  • 1970 - Hovhaness: "And God Created Great Whales" for taped song of humpback whales and orchestra, at a New York Philharmonic Promenade concert conducted by André Kostelanetz;

  • 1987 - Michael Torke: ballet "Purple," at the New York State Theater, by the New York City Ballet Orchestra, Lukas Foss conducting.


  • 1931 - Nicholas Slonimsky conducts in Paris the second of two concerts (both financed by Charles Ives) devoted to new music; The June 11 program includes works for chamber orchestra by the Spanish-Cuban composer Pedro Sanjuan ("Sones de Castilla"), Mexican Carlos Chaves ("Energia"), Franco-American Carlos Salzedo ("Preamble et Jeux"). Cuban Alejandro Caturla ("Bembe"), American Wallingford Riegger ("Three Canons"), and Franco-American Edgard Varese ("Integrales"); See also June 6, 1931.