Charles Tomlinson Griffes

Composer and pianist. Dubbed an "American Impressionist" by impressed critics who didn't know how to categorize him, he doggedly went his own way and created a small but unique body of work that one critic described as "some of the most beautiful music ever composed by an American." His enormous discipline in writing, performing, arranging, revising and orchestrating his music, his ceaseless pursuit of performance opportunities, his struggles with his publisher (Schirmer), all tell a heroic tale. The fact that he did all this while on full-time faculty duty at the Hackley School in Tarrytown, NY make his accomplishments all the more remarkable. He kept meticulous diaries, which provide a detailed history of musical life in New York City from 1907 to 1919. From them can be gleaned the slow, laborious journey from virtual invisibility to his first public successes in the last years of his life. Many of the diaries were destroyed by his sister after his death to prevent widespread knowledge of Griffes's gay recreational New York life, his attraction to men in uniform, and his only long-term relationship (with a married policeman). His best known compositions are "The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan" (1917), "The White Peacock" (1915), "Poem for Flute and Orchestra" (1918), and "Two Sketches Based on Indian Themes" (1916-1920). But perhaps his most unique and startling works are his "Sonata for Piano" (1918) and "The Kairn of Koridwen" (1916). All these works are now available on CD. Griffes may have burned himself out. Unable to afford editors or copyists, he had to correct proofs and prepare copies of his own large orchestral scores against the mounting deadlines that came with his blossoming reputation. He contracted influenza late in 1919. Over the next several weeks, intensifying fever, chronic weight loss, and growing fatigue finally brought about collapse on December 4, 1919, just after a Carnegie Hall performance of his music. He was moved to Loomis Sanatorium in upstate NY, where he seemed to rally, but only briefly. His lungs full of abcesses, he died in NY Hospital on April 20, 1920, only 35 years old, and in the first heady moments of a dream career. His funeral was held in the Church of the Messiah, at Park Avenue and 34th St. in New York City. No music had been specified for the service. Unexpectedly, during the service, the airborne sound of a Bach chorale entered the church from all sides. It came from the 71st Regiment armory across the street, where a music festival was in progress. Standing on the parapets of the armory building, a choir of trombonists played Griffes's accidental requiem. The sight would have pleased him as well as the sound. They were all in uniform. The old Church of the Messiah was replaced by a new building in 1948. The present building now houses, among other things, rehearsals of the New York City Gay Men's Chorus. (Bio by B. Collins)

Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
1916 The Fountain of Acqua Paola 4.00 stars LP
Cover Comments:
Carol Rosenberger - Piano
1917 The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan 4.00 stars CD
Cover Comments:
His masterwork

Andre Kostelanetz and His Orchestra

1918 Poem for Flute and Orchestra 4.00 stars 5CD
Cover Comments:

Eastman-Rochester Orchestra cond. Howard Hanson

1918-1919 Sonata 4.00 stars LP

Clive Lythgood - Piano