Piano Compositions by Alan Hovhaness and John Cage

  • A new blog featuring posts of interesting and rare 78rpm reviews from the Gramophone Record Supplement of the 78rpm era. Some of these posts will feature the recording, some without.

    Although there were very good, rare examples of 'modern music' available on 78rpm records - much of it was difficult to obtain and often only featured in specialist lists or found on small to medium labels. The larger labels tended to steer clear of music that didn't sell large quantities.

    Even Columbia Masterworks released a short-lived series of 'modern music' with its, Modern Music Masterpieces series, if you consider 'Gems of Melody' (Set No.4) and Gershwin's, Concerto in F (Set No.3) - modern! But, modern and experimental music was recorded all the same - albeit in small quantities and sparingly. The following 78rpm review dates from late 1947 - and features an early John Cage composition. It's interesting to note that even the reviewer at the time thought that Cage and his music had a strong and important future...


    Review taken from the Gramophone Supplement - August 1947; page 11


    Maro Ajemian & Alan Hovhaness (2 pianos) & Maro Ajemian (prepared piano)
    Two 12" 78rpm records (4 sides) in Set DISC-875
    (price complete with album $4.04)


    Contents: HOVHANESS: Mihr (2 pianos) (2 sides);
    Invocations to Vahakn IV & V (piano with Chinese gong & Drums) (1 side);
    CAGE: Amores I & IV (prepared piano) (1 side)


    Alan Hovhaness, a young American composer of Armenian extraction, has frequently been coupled with John Cage on concert programs. Actually, their music is quite dissimilar, except that it is experimental. Maro Ajemian, also of Armenian extraction, introduced the Khachaturian Piano Concerto to American audiences. In these two compositions of Hovhaness, inspired by early Armenian music, she is joined by the composer at a second piano in the "Mihr" selection and by the composer playing a Chinese gong and drums in the "Invocations to Vahakn”. These orienial-like selections have a freshness about them which is very appealing.

    The composition by John Cage is infinitely more important, however. This composer alters the tone of the piano by muting the springs with screws, bolts and bits of rubber so that it sounds more like a percussion orchestra than a solo instrument. Mr. Cage has discovered new sonorities of great beauty. There is no doubt that he is one of the more truly experimental composers writing in this country at the present time. This is music which will appeal to the connoisseur and not the general public.

    The recording has been achieved wily no little realism. The Cage work is especially well set forth.


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