Charles Tomlinson Griffes
Born 17 September 1884. Died 8 April 1920
Charles T. Griffes was one of the first American composers to write original and forward-looking music that was not parasitic upon Germanic models, even though he studied in Germany.
Born in Elmira, New York State, he originally intended to become a pianist and went to Berlin in 1903 to complete his studies there. However Engelbert Humperdinck gave him private lessons and turned him in the direction of composition; he also became acquainted with the music of Debussy and Ravel, and of Scriabin and Mussorgsky, all of which he admired.
Returning to the USA in 1907, Griffes became a music teacher in a school at Tarrytown, New York, where he remained for the remainder of his short life. At first isolated from the general run of musical life, out of French impressionism, Russian colour, a Germanic feeling for structure, and a growing interest in the music of the Far East and of the Native Americans, he managed to forge a unified and individual idiom.
From 1917 onwards his works – which included the orchestral poem The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan, The White Peacock, a number of ballets and several piano works including the highly original and forceful Sonata (1917) – began to be played with increasing frequency, and he seemed destined to be a leader among modern musicians in the USA. But, worn out by stress and overwork, he died from abscesses of the lungs brought on by influenza in April 1920, aged thirty-six. Aaron Copland wrote of him ‘What he gave those of us who came after him was a sense of the adventurous in composition, of being thoroughly alive to the newest trends in world music’.
© Calum MacDonald
Tracks (11)Last Played on BBCTwo Sketches Based on Indian Themes
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