From the Faraway Nearby (Piano Four-Hands)

Piano Four Hands, Six Movements, (2006) ca. 20’
Premiered by Hugh Sung and Walter Cosand, at Arizona State University, November 2006.

This suite is inspired by paintings by the American painter Georgia O’Keeffe. Originally written for two guitars, the suite was recorded by the Goldspiel-Provost Classical Guitar Duo. Since I rearranged the suite in 2006, it has been performed by several duos, in Latvia, England and the U.S. The paintings, audio excerpts (recordings take from the premiere by Hugh Sung and Walter Cosand) and the liner notes from the Guitar Duo CD are interspersed below.

Excerpting from an American Record Guide review (May 2002): “The centerpiece of the recital is From the Faraway Nearby, a six-movement work by New York composer Charles Griffin. Much of the work is obsessively repetitive, with constantly shifting ostinatos creating a backdrop that is at once hypnotic and engaging in its play with expectation and meter. The harmonic language is largely diatonic, though not without some provocative clashes between melodic figure and ostinato ground. The work was written for the Goldspiel-Provost Duo and they have clearly lived with it long enough to give it a solid, sensitive reading.”

These pieces, as the paintings, share a common simplification of form and clarity of line. Some are literal musical depictions of the paintings while others treat the subject more abstractly. We are offering the following descriptions to provide a better understanding of the relation between the music and painting.

Lawrence Tree

The Lawrence Tree (1929) depicts an upward view of a towering ponderosa pine found on D. H. Lawrence’s ranch outside Taos, NM. The perspective here is not unlike that of City Night, and while City Night may be seen as a testament to human yearning, The Lawrence Tree may represent a more powerful, more substantial, more natural or universal yearning. The painting shows angular branches supporting the foliage. Griffin uses an oscillating harmonic figure in one part to support the angular, rising line of the other.

City Night


City Night (1926) is a tranquil painting showing two shadowed slightly converging skyscrapers framing a white one. Next to the white skyscraper a full moon is visible. This tranquil setting is achieved musically through the primo playing the accompaniment in high, rolled chords while the secondo plays a plaintive single-line melody that begins in the baritone register and climbs to meet its accompaniment.

Pelvis IV


Pelvis IV (1944) is from a series of approximately twelve painted between 1943-45. The early pelvis paintings depict the entire bone standing upright in a landscape setting. This painting, on the other hand, focuses on the ovoid opening within the bone through which a blue night sky and full moon are visible. While Oriental Poppies is a celebration of feminine sexual energy, the Pelvis series is largely a poetic statement about feminine sexual power via cycles, birth, and rebirth. In his setting, Griffin uses a variety of techniques to evoke these elements, such as blue notes, percussive effects, rhythmic displacement, and periodicities.

From the Farway Nearby

From the Faraway Nearby (1937) contains a large deer’s skull and antlers superimposed over a mountain and sky background. The strikingly ambiguous relationship between the skull and antlers in the foreground, (Nearby) and the mountain and sky landscape, (Faraway) is further emphasized by the absence of a middle ground. Griffin musically captures this painting by using a mournful cowboy-esque melody (Nearby) in one part and a simple, delicate accompaniment played in (Faraway) in the uppermost register. O’Keeffe often closed her letters with “From the Faraway Nearby, Georgia.”

Sky Above Clouds I

Sky Above Clouds I (1963) The first of seven paintings on the same theme executed between 1962-65, was inspired while flying to New Mexico. The painting is divided into two registers. The lower one depicts the puffy clouds seen from an airplane and the second register the sky above the clouds. Griffin casts the outer sections of the movement in a lower register and uses frequent asymmetries to create a sense of perpetual motion or flight, while an upper-register ostinato in the middle section is used to delineate the “above clouds” register of the painting. The piece ends with a quiet, coda that in effect “takes off” beyond the frame of the painting.

Oriental Poppies

Oriental Poppies (1928) depicts two red poppies viewed from different perspectives. While on one hand they are identical, the perspective focuses the eye to different details of each flower. Griffin uses an ostinato figure to support a melodic line, and dance-like rhythms to capture the vibrant energy of the painting. The players frequently interchange roles but both are always equal. The listener can choose to listen to either part or the whole as the viewer may choose to focus on one flower or the entire painting.

6 thoughts on “From the Faraway Nearby (Piano Four-Hands)”

  1. We have performed From the Faraway Nearby in several occasions, from recitals held at National Public Radio affiliates to church halls and New Music Festivals. Everytime, this seemed to be one of the best received works by the audience. Griffin’s craft is evident in the writing of independent lines, the imaginative use of diatonic harmonies, and, above all, a rhythmic energy that is his trademark.
    We plan to give many more performances of this work in the nearby and faraway futures!

  2. I LOVE these movements, i was wondering where do i go to download these? i heard it on the radio, and wanted it. I have seen where do download them for the guitar, but i would like the MP3 of these recordings for Piano. Where can i download them?

  3. Thanks, DJ! There is no studio recording of this piece in the 4-hand version. I actually got a 10K grant from the Argosy Foundation to make a recording that was going to include these pieces, but then the financial crisis hit, and they were forced to withdraw their support. Sigh.

  4. The Lawrence Tree reminds me to Thom Yorke’s fine art in his band’s song that was released for free. The titled of the song is these are my twisted words. At the first time I was interested to watch the fine art while listening to the song, well actually there was more instumental. What a good combination, although lack of electronic piano sound.

  5. Charles,
    hey there! I am just checking in to see if there is now any possibility to purchase these movements recorded on piano? I have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy them on guitar, however the piano adds a different clarity and depth to the movements that otherwise are not there. Thanks again,


  6. Hi DJ,
    The 4-hand version was in many ways a re-arrangement, so there really is new stuff in that version that wasn’t in the original. They’ve not yet been recorded, sorry!

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