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Griffes, Charles Tomlinson (1884 - 1920)

Charles Tomlinson Griffes was born in 1884 in Elmira, New York, in the United States of America. After his early studies with Mary Selena Broughton he went on to study piano and composition at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin in 1903. His first teacher of piano in Berlin was Ernst Jedliczka but later he studied with Gottfried Galston who was a pupil of Leschetitzky. He studied composition with Phillipe Barthelemy Rufer and also Engelbert Humperdinck. Griffes remained in Germany until 1907 where although he composed mainly songs based on German texts he also wrote choral pieces and a Symphonic Fantasy for orchestra. These early pieces were influenced by German romanticism.

On his return to the USA in 1907 he gained employment as an organist and piano teacher at the Hackley School for Boys in Tarrytown New York. Griffes continued composing in his spare time and became familiar with the music of Debussy and Ravel. As a result, his pieces moved towards French Impressionism and oriental styles. During the next few years Gustav Schirmer started to publish his works and a number of influential artists became interested in his compositions including Pierre Monteux who premiered his most famous orchestral piece "The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan" with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1919.

Griffes contracted pneumonia which led to his untimely death in 1920 at the age of 35. Overall he is widely thought to be the most talented American composer of his generation.

His piano works are all pianistic in nature with his Sonata being the most monumental and the only work that truly represents his own style. Other major works include the 4 Roman Sketches Op.7, Three Tone Pictures Op.5, Three Fantasy Pieces Op.6, and the original piano version of The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan.


  1. Roman Sketches
  2. The Pleasure-Dome of Kubla Khan
Jan 5, 2016
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