Griffes – Poem for Flute and Orchestra

by Max Derrickson

Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884 – 1920)

Poem for Flute and Orchestra

From the list of distinctive early 20th century American composers, today Charles Griffes’ music is infrequently programmed, though it was becoming increasingly popular with audiences and the critics during his life.  His early death at 36 of pneumonia, however, clipped a musical vibrancy and recognition that he was just achieving, and one can only speculate what might have been.


Born in Elmira, New York, Griffes began piano studies early and by 1903 left forBerlinto train as a concert pianist.  The good fortune of working briefly with the beloved Engelbert Humperdinck, however, steered him toward composing, and Griffes’ natural talent quickly blossomed.  Most of his works were strongly influenced by the late Romantics and Impressionists and, later, the exoticism of Oriental music.  Passionate about verse, Griffes’ works were often based on literary themes.  His best-known work, the Pleasure-Dome of Kubla Kahn (1912-16), thematically based on Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s poem, is a brilliant blend this love of literature and Orientalism.    [. . .]


Poem for Flute and Orchestra, written in 1918, is a good example.  It was premiered by the New York Symphony Orchestra under Walter Damrosch in 1919 and the solo part played by one of the world’s premiere flutists, Georges Barrere.  It is one of Griffes’ rare non-literary based works and was inspired by Barrere’s exquisite playing.  Its essence, however, is quintessential Griffes:   [. . .]   The ending, stirring about in the sultry, low registers of the flute, is like twilight.