This essay provides an interdisciplinary study of
Charles Griffes’s monumental piano work, “The White Peacock,” integrating historical, analytical, and literary perspectives. A strong correspondence exists between the poem’s central image, the bird’s unfolding tail, and three aspects of Griffes’s setting: (1) his style of “motivic magnification,” in which the initial lush dominant ninth chord is transformed into composed-out melodic spans in the bass; (2) a strategic expansion of register, coinciding with the recapitulation; and (3) his unusual treatment of form, which in the final measures suggests perpetual repetition. Finally, Griffes’s work underlines his ties to European artistic culture by reviving and celebrating the peacock, one of the most vivid symbols of the late-Victorian movement of aestheticism.

This article is part of a special, serialized feature: A Music-Theoretical Matrix: Essays in Honor of Allen Forte (Part II).

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