Date of Award
Master of Arts (M.A.)
Conservatory of Music
Charles Tomlinson Griffes becomes a remarkable figure in American music when one considers the musical influences which surrounded him. The first of these influences, and the one of longest tenure, was that of his piano teacher, a Miss Mary Selena Broughton. An eccentric woman and, considering the times, an extremely unorthodox teacher, she instructed Griffes in piano for twelve years. In addition to giving him thorough technical training and sound musicianship, she allowed his imagination free rein. This freedom of expression was to be the biggest factor in the next and last phase of his musical training - the four years of study in Germany.
In the last decade of two of the 19th century and on into the first two of the 20th, Germany held the position as the foremost center for music education. That Griffes should choose to study there was only natural; that he should be able to throw off the powerful influences of Wagner and Strauss was, however, remarkable. For most of the pilgrims to Germany the effect was disastrous, as they were never able to free themselves from the german influences. Griffes was one of the fortunate few who, having been exposed to a rigorous and disciplined training in the groundwork of music, had the resilience to outgrow it. During his stay in Germany, under the tutelage of such an eminent man as Humperdinck (one of Griffes’ several teachers), he wrote music which was typical academic but which showed the progress of his craftsmanship. It seems almost as if he were biding his time until he could get back to Americana and away from the German influence, but appreciating all the while the excellent instruction that he was receiving. All his compositions were derivative in this period. He even used foreign language texts for his songs. Some of the German songs are worth some attention as they have been looked upon as being as good as those of “the masters of song”, Brahms and Strauss. Griffes assimilated their technique to a remarkable degree. One of the last of this German group, “Auf geheimem Waldespfade”, shows a definite trend toward Impressionism, which was then at its zenith. Strangely enough, Griffes’ work in the Impressionistic medium was a fairly independent parallel to that of Debussy and Ravel and the others in France, as he had had no instruction in it, nor had heard much of it in Germany. His study and use of Oriental scales and melodies contributed to the similarity which his music had with that of the Impressionists.
Hoberg, John Louis. (1955). A study of the Four Roman sketches of Charles T. Griffes. University of the Pacific, Thesis. https://scholarlycommons.pacific.edu/uop_etds/1282