Wednesday, April 19, 2017

An American Impressionist? One of the Most Underrated Composers I Ever Encountered...

About ten years ago I mentioned the name of Charles Tomlinson Griffes in an early blog.  It recently occurred to me, upon thinking of this man, that  a portion  of his music emerged as some of the most singular and startlingly original musical thinking that I can recall, especially during the latter phase of my years as both a student/performer and young teacher.
His answer to French Impression should be re- investigated more palpably  than it seemingly is at this point in time. His attachment to and remarkable  promulgation of the sense of atmosphere one automatically attaches to the likes of Debussy is immediately recognizable; however, the harmonic language is amazingly original. It is true Impressionism; of interest to me is that Griffes  was born in Elmira, New York and passed away only some  36 years later in New York City.
His  early  language was nurtured  and given to manuscript during his period of study at Stern Conservatory in Berlin, at that time a private music school, with luminaries  such  as Von Bulow  and Humperdinck on the faculty.
A composition titled "Roman Sketches" houses a piece called "Fountain of  Acqua Paoela" -  a famous fountain in Rome. A brilliant description of differently sized volumes and shapes  of water flowing out of this fountain in simultaneity is represented by Griffes with the following rhythmic arrangement:
In the right hand are two lines (we are in 4/4 time) - the upper line is in quarter note triplets. The lower line is in 8th note triplets. The left hand is in 16th notes. For those of you who can grasp the ingenuity of usage  created by Griffes in his portrayal of the properties of water in this particular section of the piece - well, I would recommend your examining the results.
One, among a number of reasons why this composer has remained in my memory bank...

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