A flying carpet. I close my eyes. Lift off to the sound of… that will remain a secret for a while. Heading towards the land of the Turkmen. A magical mystery tour is about to begin. Going farther east. The endless empty steppes of Central Asia, There – minarets! Samarkand. A wealth of culture. Following the Silk Road. Bliss. A promise! Modernity. Blistering skyscrapers. The sea. Traders. Dhows and container ships. Interaction, connection. Past and present. New sounds, new rhythms, innovation. Curiosity.
I travel east, someone else goes west. The Armenian Yenovk Der Hagiopan aka Yenovk the Troubadour, originally from Turkey, emigrated to the United States after the genocide committed against Turkey’s Armenian population. “Yenovk, Partitas for Piano” is the name of a sophisticated, exotic and captivating piece written by another man of Armenian descent, the composer Alan Hovhaness. Der Hagiopan entered the United States in 1923 and started to study painting and drawing at the Massachusetts School of Art. In the 1930s he moved to New York and participated in group exhibits and solo exhibitions with his modern oil paintings. Most of his subjects were of religious nature and many focused on the Turkish Terror of 1915.
A story of immigrants
Unlike Der Hagiopan, Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) was born in the State of Massachusetts, under the name of Alan Vaness Chakmakjian. He was a precocious talent and started to compose at the age of seven. From 1940 on, his interest in Armenian culture and music deepened and he began to fuse the classical music of his days with Armenian folk elements. He wrote Yenovk, Partitas for Piano, Op. 176, between 1947 and 1951.
The second part, Op. 176/2, has been recorded by a third US immigrant, the German pianist Grete Sultan, who had sought safety from the Nazis in the United States and started a second career performing pieces ranging from Bach to the New York avant-garde of classical music. Interestingly the score does not seem to have been published, so Grete Sultan must have had access to Hovhaness’ original manuscript.
The piece has a singular flair: Hovhaness succeeded in bringing traditional Armenian melodies together with the modern piano tradition suggesting the use of prepared pianos and electronic equipment to transform or enhance the sound of the piano. The tales of 1001 nights reloaded, matching the original in beauty and eloquence.
© Charles Thibo