Composers Datebook®

Hovhaness and the world's biggest vocal soloist

Composers Datebook - June 11, 2024


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, 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,” the review continued.

Hovhaness died June 21, 2000 at 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 conductor Leopold Stokowski, who asked for a new symphony in the early 1950s. He said Stokowski asked him to give it a title, since people liked titles, so Hovhaness called the 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, conductor; Delos DE-3157

On This Day


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

  • 1899 - American composer George Frederick McKay, in Harrington, Washington

  • 1926 - American opera composer Carlisle Floyd, in Latta, South Carolina


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

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

  • 1925 - Honegger: opera Judith (first 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 composer Carlos Chaves (Energia), Franco-American composer Carlos Salzedo (Preamble et Jeux), Cuban composer Alejandro Caturla (Bembe), American composer Wallingford Riegger (Three Canons), and Franco-American composer Edgard Varese (Integrales). See also June 6, 1931.

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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®