Composers Datebook®

Hovhaness in 'HOOS-ton'

Composers Datebook - October 31, 2023


On today’s date in 1955, Leopold Stokowski gave his first concert as the new music director of the Houston Symphony — or, as Stoki pronounced it, the “Hooston Symphony.” It was a major cultural event in those days. NBC even televised a bit of the famously white-maned conductor rehearsing the Texans in a brand-new work that Stokowski had commissioned for the occasion: the second symphony of Alan Hovhaness, subtitled Mysterious Mountain.

At the time, Hovhaness explained his subtitle as follows: “Mountains are symbols, like pyramids, of man’s attempt to know God. Mountains are symbolic meeting places between the mundane and spiritual worlds.”

The new piece proved to be a terrific success for all concerned. The next day, the Houston Post’s music critic wrote, “The real mystery of Mysterious Mountain is that it should be so simple, sweetly, innocently lovely in an age that has tried so terribly hard to avoid those impressions in music.”

For his part, Hovhaness once said, “Things that are complicated tend to disappear and get lost. Simplicity is difficult, not easy.”

Before his death in 2000, Hovhaness would complete 67 symphonies.

Music Played in Today's Program

Alan Hovhaness (1911 – 2000) Symphony No. 2 (Mysterious Mountain) - London Symphony; John Williams, cond. Sony Classical 62729

On This Day


  • 1833 - Russian composer Alexander Borodin, in St. Petersburg (Gregorian date: Nov. 12);

  • 1806 - American composer Louise Talma, in Arcachon, France;

  • 1949 - Cuban-American composer and conductor Odaline de la Martinez, in Matanzas, Cuba;


  • 1870 - Hungarian composer Mihály Mosonyi (Michael Brand), age 55, in Pest;


  • 1724 - Handel: opera "Tamerlano" in London at the King's Theater in the Haymarket (Gregorian date: Nov. 11); This was the London debut of the Italian tenor Francesco Borosini in a work by Handel;

  • 1865 - Brahms: "Theme and Variations" in d (after slow movement of Brahms' String Sextet No. 1), in Frankfurt am Main;

  • 1866 - Offenbach: operetta, "La Vie Parisienne," in Paris, at the Palais-Royal;

  • 1875 - Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 4 in c, Op. 44, in Paris at a concert conducted by Edouard Colonne, with the composer as soloist;

  • 1891 - Mascagni: opera "L'amico Fritz," at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome;

  • 1924 - Hindemith: "Kammermusik" No. 2, Op. 36, no. 1, in Frankfurt, with Clemens Kraus conducting and Emma Lübbecke-Job the piano soloist;

  • 1932 - Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 5, by the Berlin Philharmonic, Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting, with the composer as soloist;

  • 1947 - Chávez: "Toccata" for percussion, in Mexico City;

  • 1949 - Mark Blitzstein: opera "Regina," in New York City;

  • 1955 - Hovhaness: Symphony No. 2 ("Mysterious Mountain"), by the Houston Symphony, Leopold Stokowski conducting;

  • 1966 - Stravinsky: "The Owl and the Pussycat" (dedicated to Vera Stravinsky), in Los Angeles; This was Stravinsky's last composition;

  • 1970 - Crumb: "Ancient Voices of Children," in Washington, D.C.;

  • 1985 - Rorem: "String Symphony," by the Atlanta Symphony, Robert Shaw conducting.


  • 1739 - Handel completes in London his Concerto Grosso in b, Op. 6, no. 12 (see Julian date: Oct. 20);

  • 1933 - Arnold Schoenberg, accompanied by his wife, baby daughter, and family pet terrier "Witz," arrives in New York on the liner Isle de France.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®