Charles Griffes’s Xanadu

A musical garden of opposites

Authored by: Taylor A. Greer

The Routledge Handbook of Music Signification

Print publication date:  March  2020
Online publication date:  March  2020

Print ISBN: 9780815376453
eBook ISBN: 9781351237536
Adobe ISBN:


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The music of Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1885–1920) represents a pivotal moment in American musical life. He drew inspiration from a wide spectrum of exotic sources, including French, Celtic, Javanese, and Native American, and synthesized them into a new compositional voice. For example, after reading a novel by the late nineteenth-century French author Pierre Loti, he confided in a diary entry: “Loti has written a highly-coloured and strangely exotic tale of an Arab quarter of Algiers. Every word breathes Oriental perfume!” 1 Five years later, Griffes composed his own sonic brand of “Oriental perfume” in his tone poem The Pleasure-Dome of Kubla Khan, based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s phantasmagorical vision of the Chinese emperor and his garden, Xanadu.

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