Charles Tomlinson Griffes (b. Elmira, New York, September 17, 1884; d. New York City, April 8, 1920) was an American composer for piano, chamber ensembles and for voice. After early studies on piano and organ in his home town, he went to Berlin for four years to study composition with Humperdinck. On returning to the U.S. in 1907 he began teaching at the Hackley School for boys in Tarrytown, New York, a post which he held until his early death 13 years later.
Charles Griffes CDGriffes is the most famous American representative of musical Impressionism. He was fascinated by the exotic, mysterious sound of the French Impressionists, and was compositionally much influenced by them while he was in Europe. He also studied the work of contemporary Russian composers (for example Scriabin), whose influence is also apparent in his work, for example in his use of synthetic scales.
His most famous works are the White Peacock, for piano (1915, orchestrated in 1919); his Piano Sonata (1917-18, revised 1919); a tone poem, The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan, after the fragment by Coleridge (1912, revised in 1916), and the Poem for Flute and Orchestra (1918). He also wrote numerous programmatic pieces for piano, chamber ensembles, and for voice. The amount and quality of his music is impressive considering his short life and his full-time teaching job, and much of his music is still performed. His unpublished Sho-jo (1917), a one-act pantomimic drama based on Japanese themes, is one of the earliest works by an American composer to show direct inspiration from the music of Japan.
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