Griffes, Charles Tomlinson Biography
Championed by Farwell and Busoni, he finally saw an upswing in his artistic fortunes beginning in 1914, just as his personal life acquired some stability in an on-going liaison with a New York policeman. In the remaining six years of his life, he produced his most important compositions, among them THE WHITE PEACOCK, THE PLEASURE DOME OF KUBLA KHAN, a 1917 orchestral work inspired by Coleridge's poem which revealed the composer's orientalizing inclinations; his 1918 PIANO SONATA; his 1919 POEM FOR FLUTE AND ORCHESTRA; and the unfinished FIVE PIECES FOR PIANO. He increased his recitals, expanded his contacts with prominent musicians of the day, and drew ever more appreciative notices from critics, culminating in the rapturous reception his POEM received on November 16, 1919, by the New York Symphony under the baton of Walter Damrosch and by the November 28th triumph of KUBLA KHAN with Pierre Monteux and the Boston Symphony.
These unconditional successes were soon to turn bittersweet. The victim of lung infections and influenza as well as overwork and emotional strain, he collapsed at Hackley in December 1919. Neither a sanitarium stay nor surgery could cure him, and Griffes died at New York Hospital on April 8, 1920.
In addition to his legacy of instrumental works, Griffes left a considerable body of song which ranged in style from the early German Romantic settings to those informed by his interest in French Impressionism and Asian art. Frequently dubbed 'ultra modern' by the critics of the day, his mature songs such as the Oscar Wilde settings or the FIVE POEMS OF ANCIENT CHINA & JAPAN demonstrate Griffes' sensitivity to the voice--this gained from his friendships with singers like Eva Gauthier and Laura Moore Elliot--and his pianistic gifts, as well as considerable complexity and sophistication of melody, texture, and harmonics.
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