Composers Datebook®

A Griffes premiere in Philadelphia

Composers Datebook - 20231219


The short career of Charles Tomlinson Griffes is one of the more tragic “might-have-beens” of American music history. Griffes died at 35 in 1920 just as his music was being taken up by the major American orchestras of his day.

As most American composers of his time, Griffes studied in Germany, and his early works were, not surprisingly, rather Germanic in tone. But beginning around 1911, he began composing works inspired by French impressionism and the art of Asia.

The Boston Symphony, under Pierre Monteux, premiered his tone poem The Pleasure Dome of Kubla-Khan and the New York Symphony, under Walter Damrosch, his Poeme for flute and orchestra. On today’s date in 1919, the Philadelphia Orchestra, under Leopold Stokowski, premiered four orchestral pieces: Nocturne, Bacchanale, Clouds and one of his best works, The White Peacock. The Philadelphia newspaper reviews of the premieres called Griffes’ work “one of the hopeful intimations for the future of American music.”

A severe bout of influenza left Griffes too weak to attend these Philadelphia premieres under Stokowski, and he died of a lung infection the following spring.

Music Played in Today's Program

Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920) The White Peacock; Dallas Symphony; Andrew Litton, cond. Dorian 90224

On This Day


  • 1676 - French composer and organist, Louis Nicolas Clérambault, in Paris;

  • 1825 - American composer George Frederick Bristow, in Brooklyn, N.Y.;

  • 1894 - German composer Paul Dessau, in Hamburg;


  • 1865 - Rimsky-Korsakov: Symphony No. 1, in St. Petersburg (Gregorian date: Dec. 31);

  • 1873 - Tchaikovsky: symphonic fantasia "The Tempest" (after Shakespeare), in Moscow (Julian date: Dec. 7);

  • 1890 - Tchaikovsky: opera, "Pique Dame," in St. Petersburg, at the Mariinsky Theatre, Eduard Napravnik conducting (Julian date: Dec. 7);

  • 1919 - Griffes: "The White Peacock" (orchestral version), by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski conducting;

  • 1930 - American premiere of Stravinsky: "Symphony of Psalms," by the Boston Symphony under Serge Koussevitzky (who commissioned the work to celebrate the Boston Symphony's 50th Anniversary); The world premiere had occurred in Brussels on December 13, 1930, conducted by Ernest Ansermet;

  • 1991 - Corigliano: opera "The Ghosts of Versailles," in New York City at the Metropolitan Opera;

  • 2002 - Rodion Shchedrin: “The Enchanted Wanderer” for vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra, by the New York Choral Artists and New York Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel conducting;

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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