The Kennedy Center

Charles Tomlinson Griffes



Biography

Charles Griffes was born in Elmira, New York, on September 17, 1884.  He received his first musical training from his sister Katherine a piano teacher.  At the age of 13 he had begun formal musical training with Mary Selena Broughton, a professor at Elmira College.  She mentored, recommended and paid for his further studies at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin.
 
Described as a brilliant student, he studied piano with teachers Ernst Jedliczka and Gottfried Gaston, composition with Engelbert Humperdinck and Philipp Rufer and counterpoint with Wilhelm Klatte and Max Lowengard while at the Stern Conservatory.  While living in Berlin, his German experience greatly influenced his style toward the Romantic period.  He became fluent in the language and was associated with many prominent artists such as Richard Strauss, Ferruccio Busoni, Isadora Duncan, and Enrico Caruso.  In addition he would go on to form a close personal relationship with a fellow student and German nationalist-composer, Emil Joèl aka Konrad Wölcke, who helped Griffes through the financially troubled times following his father death in 1905.  Charles Griffes ‘self-avowed' homosexual chronicled his openly homosexual lifestyle in dairies.   He also had a long term relationship with biographer Edward Maisel who used the pseudonym Dan C. Martin, a married New York policeman.
 
He had wanted to pursue a career as a concert pianist but that changed when his father died.  He had the burden to support his family on him.  His returned to the US accepting a position as music instructor at the Hackley School for Boys in Tarrytown, New York.  Hoping teaching would prove a temporary situation but it lasted until his death.  Plus he found it difficult to find publishers who would publish him.
 
During the last six years of his life he composed his most important works, the most significant being his orchestral piece 'The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan' which was finally performed by the New York Symphony in November 1919 just months before his untimely death from lung and heart problems.  He contracted influenza late in 1919 and spent weeks fighting fevers.  On December 4, 1919 after his last Carnegie Hall performance of his music, he moved into Loomis Sanatorium in upstate New York because of his lung disease.  He died in a New York Hospital on April 20, 1920 at 35 years old.
Charles Griffes