Charles Tomlinson Griffes

Charles Tomlinson Griffes

Charles Griffes at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Background information
Born (1884-09-17)September 17, 1884
Elmira, New York
Origin United States
Died April 8, 1920(1920-04-08) (aged 35)
New York City
Occupation(s) Composer
Instruments Piano, voice
Years active 1910–1919

Charles Tomlinson Griffes (pron. GRIFF-iss) (September 17, 1884 April 8, 1920) was an American composer for piano, chamber ensembles and voice.

Musical career

Griffes was born in Elmira, New York. After early studies on piano and organ in his home town, he went to Berlin to study with pianist Ernst Jedliczka at the Stern Conservatory.[1] While there, Griffes also enjoyed a brief but influential mentorship by composer Engelbert Humperdinck.[1] On returning to the U.S. in 1907, he became director of music studies at the Hackley School for boys in Tarrytown, New York, a post which he held until his early death thirteen years later.[2]

Griffes 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 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 His unpublished Sho-jo (1917), a one-act pantomimic drama based on Japanese themes, is one of the earliest works by an American composer to show direct inspiration from the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.

Personal life

He died of influenza, in New York City, during the worldwide pandemic at the age of 35, and is buried in Bloomfield Cemetery in Bloomfield, Essex County, New Jersey.[3] His papers passed to his younger sister Marguerite who chose to destroy many that explicitly related to his gay life.[4] Donna Anderson (see below) is his current literary executor.

Griffes kept meticulous diaries, some in German, which chronicled his musical accomplishments from 1907 to 1919, and also dealt honestly with his homosexuality, including his regular patronage of the Lafayette Place Baths and the Produce Exchange Baths. [3][5]

Charles Tomlinson Griffes was drawn into the gay world by the baths not just because he had sex there, but because he met men there who helped him find apartments and otherwise make his way through the city, who appreciated his music, who gave him new insights into his character, and who became his good friends. The gay world became a central part of his everyday world, even though he kept it hidden from his nongay associates.
George Chauncey, Gay New York 1995

During his time as a student in Berlin he was devoted to his "special friend" Emil Joèl (aka "Konrad Wölcke"). In later life, he had a long term relationship with John Meyer (biographer Edward Maisel used the pseudonym Dan C. Martin), a married New York policeman.[4]

Musical compositions

Stage works

Orchestral works

Chamber music

  1. The Lake at Evening
  2. The Vale of Dreams
  3. The Night Winds




  1. La fuite de la lune (Oscar Wilde), 1912
  2. Symphony in Yellow (Wilde), 1912
  3. We'll to the Woods, and Gather May (W. E. Henley), 1914
  1. This Book of Hours (W. Crane)
  2. Come, Love, across the Sunlit Land (C. Scollard)
  1. Le jardin, 1915
  2. Impression du matin, 1915
  3. La mer, 1912, new setting 1916
  4. Le réveillon, 1914
  1. In a Myrtle Shade (William Blake)
  2. Waikiki (R. Brooke), E. Gauthier, M. Hansotte, New York, 22 April 1918
  3. Phantoms (A. Giovannitti)
  1. So-fei Gathering Flowers (Wang Chang-Ling), 1917
  2. Landscape (Sada-ihe), 1916
  3. The Old Temple among the Mountains (Chang Wen-Chang), 1916
  4. Tears (Wang Seng-Ju), 1916
  5. A Feast of Lanterns (Yuan Mei), 1917
  1. An Old Song Re-Sung, 1918
  2. Sorrow of Mydath, 1917
  1. The Lament of Ian the Proud
  2. Thy Dark Eyes to Mine
  3. The Rose of the Night
  1. Am Kreuzweg wird begraben (Heine)
  2. An den Wind (Lenau)
  3. Auf ihrem Grab (Heine)
  4. Auf dem Teich, dem Regungslosen (N. Lenau)
  5. Auf geheimen Waldespfade (Lenau)
  6. Das ist ein Brausen und Heulen (Heine)
  7. Das sterbende Kind (E. Geibel)
  8. Der träumende See (J. Mosen)
  9. Des müden Abendlied (Geibel)
  10. Elfe (J. von Eichendorff)
  11. Entflieh mit mir (Heine)
  12. Es fiel ein Reif (Heine)
  13. Frühe (Eichendorff)
  14. Gedicht von Heine (Mit schwarzen Segeln)
  15. Ich weiss nicht, wie's geschieht (Geibel)
  16. Könnt’ ich mit dir dort oben gehn (Mosen)
  17. Meeres Stille (J.W. von Goethe)
  18. Mein Herz ist wie die dunkle Nacht (Geibel)
  19. Mir war, als müsst’ ich graben (Das Grab) (F. Hebbel)
  20. Nacht liegt auf den fremden Wegen (H. Heine)
  21. So halt’ ich endlich dich umfangen (Geibel)
  22. Winternacht (Lenau)
  23. Wo bin ich, mich rings umdunkelt (Heine), c1903–11
  24. Wohl lag ich einst in Gram und Schmerz (E. Geibel)
  25. Zwei Könige sassen auf Orkadal (Geibel), before 1910

Choral works


  1. 1 2 Greene, David Mason (1985). Greene's Biographical Encyclopedia of Composers. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday. p. 1139. ISBN 9780385142786.
  2. Hershenson, Roberta (April 2, 1995). "75 Years After His Death, a Composer's Originality Is Honored". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved July 17, 2014.
  3. 1 2 "Grave for Charles Tomlinson". Retrieved 2006-12-22.
  4. 1 2 Dynes, Wayne (1990). Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. St. James Press. p. 506. ISBN 1-55862-147-4.
  5. "GLBTQ Encyclopedia entry for Charles Griffes". GLBTQ. Retrieved 2006-12-22.

References and further reading

External links

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