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#1495515 - 08/13/10 09:09 PM Charles Griffes
Skorpius Offline
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So, I was at my first lesson with my new teacher, a concert pianist, and he told me to listen to possible pieces he would give me by a composer named Charles Griffes, this was one of them:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CD0-bCXZVj0&feature=related

Just trying to open discussion of lesser-known composers smile
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#1495517 - 08/13/10 09:14 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: Skorpius]
Catenaires Offline
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I played his "White Peacock", also from the Op. 7 Roman Sketches.

What in incredible set. He has a very delicate and interesting language. Not that it matters much, but he was gay, and frequented the bath-houses of the early 20th centuries.

In a weird way, and in a good way, I can hear it in his music. laugh

A very understated composer, with a very refined way of writing.

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#1495518 - 08/13/10 09:15 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: Skorpius]
argerichfan Offline
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Check out the Barcarolle from his Fantasy Pieces, Op. 6. It's rather erotic, and that Venetian gondolier must have thoroughly enjoyed watching his passengers!
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#1495520 - 08/13/10 09:18 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: Catenaires]
Piano*Dad Online   content
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My son also played the Peacock. It's still in his repertoire two years later.

Your terms -- understated, refined -- are well chosen.

Griffes' work often appears on Federation lists because the required piece must be American. Their definition of American is a bit stretched. Rachmaninoff and Tcherepnin are on the list. But what the heck. That helps broaden the choice a bit. smile
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#1495526 - 08/13/10 09:35 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: Piano*Dad]
WinsomeAllegretto Offline
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Griffes is one of the 3 composers that my music history professor named as "Impressionist." Haha, just throwing that out there. I like his music. It does sound a bit like Debussy. Sometimes. Sometimes it's weirder.

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#1495528 - 08/13/10 09:41 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: WinsomeAllegretto]
Piano*Dad Online   content
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Well, Griffes was indeed an American Impressionist. He studied in Berlin and returned to the US in 1907. While in Europe he was deeply immersed in impressionistic piano works.

At a recent concert, P*S used the Peacock as a sort of 'slow movement' between the first and third movements of Debussy's Suite Pour le Piano. That worked really well. The Fountains that Skorpius posted would also go well if paired with a French work. I imagine it would link up nicely with a Debussy prelude like the Cathedrale Engloutie that he is starting.
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#1495530 - 08/13/10 09:47 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: Piano*Dad]
beet31425 Offline
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Originally Posted By: Piano*Dad
At a recent concert, P*S used the Peacock as a sort of 'slow movement' between the first and third movements of Debussy's Suite Pour le Piano. That worked really well.

Griffes is great. But about that program... doesn't the second movement of the Debussy also work as a slow movement between the first and third movements? smile (And it's not like it's not a masterpiece....)


-Jason
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#1495539 - 08/13/10 10:01 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: beet31425]
Piano*Dad Online   content
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Yes, but you have to know the second movement. smile

He's still polishing the Sarabande, which is indeed a masterpiece. In it's absence, the Griffes offered a nice storyline about transatlantic musical connections.
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#1495550 - 08/13/10 10:42 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: Piano*Dad]
Orange Soda King Offline
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I LOVE Griffes!!! I have a video of me playing his Scherzo on YouTube!

I highly recommend learning the Fountains piece. The Roman Sketches are all great pieces, and so are the Fantasy pieces (and the sonata).


Edited by Orange Soda King (08/13/10 10:43 PM)

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#1495552 - 08/13/10 10:46 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: Piano*Dad]
BruceD Offline
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I hear reflections - as it were - of Debussy's "Reflets dans l'eau" in the linked piece.

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#1495553 - 08/13/10 10:47 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: Orange Soda King]
Catenaires Offline
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Originally Posted By: Orange Soda King
I LOVE Griffes!!! I have a video of me playing his Scherzo on YouTube!

I highly recommend learning the Fountains piece. The Roman Sketches are all great pieces, and so are the Fantasy pieces (and the sonata).



Oooo! I was unaware of the sonata. I'll have to check it out. (I think I may have a fetish with sonata form... or maybe it's because so many great composers wrote so many great sonatas smile )

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#1495556 - 08/13/10 10:54 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: Catenaires]
jeffreyjones Offline
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I played The Fountains of the Acqua Paola earlier this year for my church, they were dazzled by it. His harmonic language can seem indecipherable on the page at first, but it sounds very clean and intelligible to the listener.. kind of like Chopin. smile

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#1495606 - 08/14/10 01:06 AM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: Catenaires]
argerichfan Offline
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Originally Posted By: Catenaires
I was unaware of the sonata. I'll have to check it out.

By all means. If I am not mistaken, the Griffes sonata had a certain vogue for a while, but then the academics had their way with it, not to their taste. I never notice it programmed these days, and I wonder how much honestly written music (though not 'forward looking' enough) has been suppressed.

I would check out the Barcarolle. No one except me has mentioned it in this thread, but it really is an aural feast.
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#1495738 - 08/14/10 09:07 AM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: argerichfan]
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I suspect that academic taste as it evolved in mid-century has left a hole on our musical memory for a lot of good work from the prior half century. That just means there is a lot of good stuff ripe for revisionism and rediscovery. smile

I think the Griffes works that remain at least partially alive for students are the Roman Sketches and Poem for flute/piano.
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#1495743 - 08/14/10 09:27 AM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: BruceD]
tomasino Offline
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Impressionistic? Not quite what I remember from singing his songs. I'm not very familiar with his piano works though, so maybe I'm off.

Anyway, I thought he was thought of as "Expressionistic," very similar to impressionism in some ways and very opposite in others. For example, his songs would typically have a number of measures of the ethereal, disembodied and magical sensibility we call impressionism, and this would be suddenly contrasted with something quite violent. I thought this contrast was pretty much what defined expressionism. Happy to be corrected if I'm wrong, or if this isn't typical of Griffes' piano works.

Tomasino
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#1495749 - 08/14/10 09:46 AM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: tomasino]
jeffreyjones Offline
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I think you do have a point, tomasino. The Sonata is certainly not what I would call "Impressionistic." It looks forward to Copland and Barber more than it apes Debussy or Ravel.

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#1495882 - 08/14/10 02:05 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: jeffreyjones]
WinsomeAllegretto Offline
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Registered: 07/18/10
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Originally Posted By: jeffreyjones
I think you do have a point, tomasino. The Sonata is certainly not what I would call "Impressionistic." It looks forward to Copland and Barber more than it apes Debussy or Ravel.


I agree not all of Griffes's work sounds impressionistic. That's why I'm confused why my professor named him among the 3 impressionist composers when he left out Ravel. confused

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#1495901 - 08/14/10 02:53 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: BruceD]
SlatterFan Offline
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Registered: 08/13/09
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Originally Posted By: BruceD
I hear reflections - as it were - of Debussy's "Reflets dans l'eau" in the linked piece.

So do I -- with hints of Debussy's Pagodes (from Estampes) too, especially at 1:01, and also Scriabin at 1:53 (very similar to the central part of Poème tragique Op.34).

I agree with the posters who say the Griffes Sonata doesn't sound impressionistic, but it was his last work and very different in style from his previous compositions. The harsh 8-tone scale he uses in much of the sonata definitely doesn't sound impressionistic!

P.S. It surprised me very much to hear his surname pronounced as two syllables in a music shop some years ago. British readers like me might expect "Griffs", and French or Canadian readers might expect "Greef", but his name is apparently correctly pronounced "Griff-iss".
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#1495938 - 08/14/10 04:16 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: argerichfan]
Catenaires Offline
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Registered: 08/01/10
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Originally Posted By: argerichfan
Originally Posted By: Catenaires
I was unaware of the sonata. I'll have to check it out.

By all means. If I am not mistaken, the Griffes sonata had a certain vogue for a while, but then the academics had their way with it, not to their taste. I never notice it programmed these days, and I wonder how much honestly written music (though not 'forward looking' enough) has been suppressed.

I would check out the Barcarolle. No one except me has mentioned it in this thread, but it really is an aural feast.


The academia seems to have it's nasty way with everything modern, especially in the last few decades. Our music has lived through various instituions and educational structures. I feel the modern academic model is quite destructive, or at the least creating an anachronism. I quite prefered the 'apprentice model' of the 17th century, when composers would study intensely with an elder, and be commisioned by royalty (though that was in no way perfect). ... better than sustaining yourself in the university or the conservatory anyway. Or how about the parlor world of the 19th?

I will absolutely check out Op. 6! I'm unfamiliar with the set, and quite excited laugh.

Sometimes I wonder how much works which are built with a priority of 'forwardness' - often originating in dishonesty, and often too foward thinking its own sake - end up encouraged by the collegiate model.

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#1495940 - 08/14/10 04:19 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: SlatterFan]
BruceD Offline
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Originally Posted By: SlatterFan
[...]P.S. It surprised me very much to hear his surname pronounced as two syllables in a music shop some years ago. British readers like me might expect "Griffs", and French or Canadian readers might expect "Greef", but his name is apparently correctly pronounced "Griff-iss".


I have never heard his name pronounced other than the two-syllable Griff'-iss. But then, how often have I heard his name pronounced at all?

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#1495970 - 08/14/10 05:04 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: tomasino]
packa Offline
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Registered: 02/05/05
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Loc: Dallas, TX
Originally Posted By: tomasino
Impressionistic? Not quite what I remember from singing his songs. I'm not very familiar with his piano works though, so maybe I'm off.

Anyway, I thought he was thought of as "Expressionistic," very similar to impressionism in some ways and very opposite in others. For example, his songs would typically have a number of measures of the ethereal, disembodied and magical sensibility we call impressionism, and this would be suddenly contrasted with something quite violent. I thought this contrast was pretty much what defined expressionism. Happy to be corrected if I'm wrong, or if this isn't typical of Griffes' piano works.


Although I have often heard him referred to as the "American Impressionist", I believe he was much more wide-ranging than just that single style.

Excerpts from Grove Music Online:

Quote:
Griffes's early works are strongly influenced by German Romanticism. His songs for voice and piano, with German texts are representative of this period....

In about 1911 Griffes began to abandon the German style. The works written from then until about 1917 are highly coloured, free in form, and generally reflect many other elements of musical Impressionism. The piano pieces, for example, are pictorial and employ descriptive titles and/or poetic texts (e.g. Three Tone-Pictures and Roman Sketches). But as often as not Griffes added the texts and titles after he had completed the works. Impressionistic moods are established by gliding parallel chords, whole-tone scales, augmented triads, ostinato figures across the bar-line, and other devices. Of the songs from this period, the Tone-Images and Four Impressions most clearly reflect Griffes's brand of Impressionism. The Three Poems op.9, on the other hand, are extremely dissonant, tonally obscure, and stylistically experimental.

In November 1916 and 1917 Griffes composed settings of five oriental poems for voice and piano, based on five- and six-tone scales. Published in 1917 as Five Poems of Ancient China and Japan op.10, they were the first works in Griffes's ‘oriental’ style.... In 1917 Griffes prepared the imaginative and colourful orchestral version of his best-known oriental work, The Pleasure-Dome of Kubla Khan (originally written for piano).

The late Piano Sonata, (1917–18), is one of Griffes's most powerful and striking works. It shows him at the peak of his creative power and is a complete break from the style and approach of his earlier works: not only is it uncompromisingly dissonant, but it is absolute music with no imagery intended, no poetic programme, and no descriptive title; moreover, unlike the earlier works for piano, which were rhapsodic one-movement forms, it is cast in three movements with the two outer movements in recognizable sonata structure....

The Three Preludes for piano (1919), Griffes's last completed works, mark yet another turn in his brief career in the search for a musical language which would best express his individuality. They retain the abstract harmonic language of the sonata but represent him as a miniaturist writing within the confines of 32 bars or less....
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#1495975 - 08/14/10 05:12 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: packa]
Catenaires Offline
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You can see a resistance to the word - Impressionism - in that bit, but eventually it slips. smile While I don't think Griffes could be pigeonholed into that genre, it seems almost impossible to describe him without reference to the old impressionist school.

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#1496006 - 08/14/10 06:12 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: Catenaires]
Sorcerer88 Offline
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unfortunately there's not a single youtube recording of the barcarolle, and strangely Geoffrey Tozer didn't include Op.6 in his Griffes piano works CD. maybe you want to record it yourself, argerichfan? wink
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#1496067 - 08/14/10 08:15 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: Sorcerer88]
argerichfan Offline
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Originally Posted By: Sorcerer88
unfortunately there's not a single youtube recording of the barcarolle, and strangely Geoffrey Tozer didn't include Op.6 in his Griffes piano works CD. maybe you want to record it yourself, argerichfan? wink

laugh , Sorcerer, a fair enough request.

The Chopin Bb minor Scherzo was horribly more difficult than anything of Griffes, but there is one slight problem: the Griffes is too much tied to a love affair I had when learning it.

This is so funny. The youngsters on the board have not yet been through a crushing love affair, and the elder statesmen here have long put that stuff away.

So here I am in the middle. I can talk about the 'Barcarolle', but I will not listen to it, nor my recording of it.

Piff paff. smokin
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#1496079 - 08/14/10 08:37 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: WinsomeAllegretto]
Orange Soda King Offline
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Registered: 11/25/09
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Originally Posted By: WinsomeAllegretto


I agree not all of Griffes's work sounds impressionistic. That's why I'm confused why my professor named him among the 3 impressionist composers when he left out Ravel. confused


Griffes has a much higher impressionistic output/total output ratio in his music than Ravel. Same with Debussy. Who's the third composer your professor said again?

All I can think of by Ravel is Gaspard de la Nuit, some of Miroirs, and Jeux d'Eau. I may be forgetting one or two. The rest of it is totally neoclassical, neobaroque, pre-jazz/jazz-ish, or something like that.

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#1496080 - 08/14/10 08:39 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: argerichfan]
Sorcerer88 Offline
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hah, funny thing, i will actually (kind of) dedicate a performance of a special piece to a girl that is in a relationship, so maybe i'll soon share your fate and never listen to it again laugh

if anyone finds any recordings - especially the barcarolle - let me know!

ps: i knew i recognized your avatar, the CD just arrived on my shelf, excellent recordings! the fact that argerich set a reference performance of the Liszt sonata live on her debut recital is pretty amazing..


Edited by Sorcerer88 (08/14/10 08:42 PM)
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#1496114 - 08/14/10 09:31 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: Sorcerer88]
argerichfan Offline
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Originally Posted By: Sorcerer88
hah, funny thing, i will actually (kind of) dedicate a performance of a special piece to a girl that is in a relationship, so maybe i'll soon share your fate and never listen to it again laugh

if anyone finds any recordings - especially the barcarolle - let me know!

ps: i knew i recognized your avatar, the CD just arrived on my shelf, excellent recordings! the fact that argerich set a reference performance of the Liszt sonata live on her debut recital is pretty amazing..

We'll take this one at a time. laugh

1. Glad I'm not the only one a total mess when things go crazy with love affairs. A lot of that sh*t affected my concentration at uni.

2. The only recording I have heard (besides my own) is Carol Rosenberger. IMO, she is not in any sense a great pianist -listen to her hopelessly sloppy Chopin Barcarolle- and then if you REALLY want to hear what a miserable pianist she is, try the Strauss Burleske. It is pathetic, but I suppose if we didn't have the examples of Argerich, Serkin, Janis, etc, then perhaps we could be happier saying 'Well, she got through it'.

3. As for my avatar, well that says it all. I have heard SO MANY recordings of the Liszt sonata, and I am willing to stand by my opinion that Martha Argerich is unsurpassed. I have listened to it so many times, she meets Liszt head-on, she takes the extremes of Liszt's combustible emotions as if it were second nature, she has musical sex with him.

All other recordings bore me. Okay, Horowitz makes quite a bit more racket (though I wonder to what end), but Horowitz is always about 'Horowitz', the composer be damned. Argerich takes Liszt on without question. IMO, she is the far greater interpreter.
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#1496151 - 08/14/10 10:08 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: BruceD]
wr Offline
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Originally Posted By: BruceD
Originally Posted By: SlatterFan
[...]P.S. It surprised me very much to hear his surname pronounced as two syllables in a music shop some years ago. British readers like me might expect "Griffs", and French or Canadian readers might expect "Greef", but his name is apparently correctly pronounced "Griff-iss".


I have never heard his name pronounced other than the two-syllable Griff'-iss. But then, how often have I heard his name pronounced at all?


Two syllables is how it is given in this music-related prounouncing dictionary . But then, their "Ginastera" pronunciation is wrong...

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#1496152 - 08/14/10 10:10 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: argerichfan]
Piano*Dad Online   content
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Quote:
if anyone finds any recordings - especially the barcarolle - let me know!


There may not be any recordings of the barcarolle on youtube (though I haven't checked), but there are a fair number of recording of the pieces that make up the Roman Sketches.
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#1496153 - 08/14/10 10:15 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: Catenaires]
Piano*Dad Online   content
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Originally Posted By: Catenaires
You can see a resistance to the word - Impressionism - in that bit, but eventually it slips. smile While I don't think Griffes could be pigeonholed into that genre, it seems almost impossible to describe him without reference to the old impressionist school.


Yes, this is a bit odd. Composers grow and change as they gain experience and as they come into contact with new strains of thought. The fact that Griffes spent time as a young man in Europe at the turn of the century puts him in direct contact with Debussy's influence. What a shock that he might have been affected by Debussy's piano music.
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#1496185 - 08/14/10 10:41 PM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: Sorcerer88]
packa Offline
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Originally Posted By: Sorcerer88
unfortunately there's not a single youtube recording of the barcarolle, and strangely Geoffrey Tozer didn't include Op.6 in his Griffes piano works CD. maybe you want to record it yourself, argerichfan? wink

Naxos has issued a two-volume set of Griffes piano works with Michael Lewin. Op. 6, including the Barcarolle, is on Vol. 2 (Naxos 8.559046).
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#1496293 - 08/15/10 04:56 AM Re: Charles Griffes [Re: packa]
Sorcerer88 Offline
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oh, right, i already have Vol. 1, that's what i meant with wondering that Tozer didn't do the Barcarolle (thought he was the pianist), i'll order Vol. 2 right away =)
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