Prayer of St. Gregory

By Alan Hovhaness, op. 62b

Peer International Ed.

Biographical Info

Alan Hovhaness, of Armenian and Scottish descent, was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, on March 8, 1911. He began composing as soon as he could read music, at the age of four – a spontaneous act which seems to have had about it the inevitability of an unquestioned law of nature.  His output is vast as indeed are the giant melodies which characterize much of his work.

At the time of the second world war, Hovhaness made the courageous decision to destroy almost his entire previous output – more than a thousand works. This oft quoted “legend” is true, his reasons being bound up in his ever expanding awareness of the potential of combining Eastern with Western influences, which cast feelings of strong dissatisfaction on his work prior to that time. A detailed analysis and study of 7th century Armenian religious music revolutionized Hovhaness’s approach to his own composing.

Since his “new beginning” he has composed more than 360 works to date, including orchestral pieces, concertos, oratorios, operas, chamber works, songs, and 52 symphonies.  All this is music of direct and exquisitely melodic nature, abounding in fascinating rhythmic invention, some of it using microtones (which, the composer feels, frees music from conventional Western restrictions, thereby allowing greater fluidity), and with a unity that touches on a sphere beyond the realm of mere orchestral sound.

The Prayer of St. Gregory, a five-minute work for trumpet and strings, began life as an intermezzo in Hovhaness’ opera Etchmiadzin, composed in mid-1946, and premiered in New York in October of that year.  The present excerpt, described by Hovhaness as “a prayer in darkness,” was soon extracted as a separate work, and is one of his most popular short pieces.  The personage referred to in the work’s title is St. Gregory the Illuminator, who at the beginning of the fourth century brought Christianity to Armenia.  This calm work, in a moderate tempo, begins with gentle string chords, chorale-like, in Hovhaness’ unmistakable modal melodic and harmonic vein, over which a slow trumpet melody gradually unfolds itself.  ~ Chris Morrison, All Music Guide

Hovhaness has written many, many works with prominent trumpet parts.  I encourage you to go here and type in a search for trumpet.

Suggested Equipment

This is a great work for Bb trumpet.  The pitch tendencies on most Bb trumpets happen to make B natural minor (in this particular range) a very comfortable key.  However, this piece is scored for trumpet and organ, strings or band.  I’ve had the opportunity to play this in each of those settings.  When playing with strings, my C worked much better and depending on the organ you might consider a C trumpet for that setting as well.  My Bb worked fine with a band.

Practice/Performance Tips

The nature of this work in my mind is somewhat gentle, flowing, noble, and proud.  There are many fortes and a fortissimo but I don’t consider this a “loud” piece.  I think of it more as full, or resonant, never forced.

When learning the piece it has been very helpful to play from the organ score.  True there are page turns to deal with but you don’t have to count rests, and these rests are tricky to count!  Use the trumpet part once you learn the accompaniment.

3 measures after 1 there is a motive that is stated four times throughout the piece in prominent locations at the ends of phrases.  It is like an “Amen” to the phrase.  Place a bit of a tenudo on the sixteenth to give that motive importance and finality.  (The last “Amen” is augmented and happens 4 from the end.)  Similarly, put a little weight on the first eighth-note of the “Amen” motive.

The climax of the work happens between rehearsal 2 and 3.  Be sure to play a sixteenth pick-up instead of the previously established eighth-note pick-ups.  Building up to this climax is fantastic when you hit it just right!  Pace yourself, think of one large crescendo rather than multiple smaller ones.  Use the long notes to follow through on your build up and try not to taper off on the sustained tones.


I am including three clips (played on Bb) to show where I have decided to breathe.  I made the breath decisions based on what is happening in the band score.

Rehearsal 1

Rehearsal 2

Rehearsal 5


Notice that I take some liberty (rubato) with the sixteenth note sections and play straight time with the eighth-note phrases.  Again, this is based on how the accompaniment interacts with the solo part.  The accompaniment is sustained through a lot of this giving you the freedom to express almost cadenza-like.  The moving notes are obvious places for expression but use the sustained notes as well to create intensity or repose.  This is also a great piece to work on sound color and vibrato.

There is one editorial note you should know.  The organ and string versions have you slurring from pick-up to 10 after 2 for three measures.  The band version only has a two-measure slur.  Breathe after that two-measure slur (11 after 2) when playing this with a band.  I would breathe 12 after 2 when playing with organ or strings.

Suggested Recordings

This work has been recorded many times.  I encourage you to go here for a list of about 30 recordings!