Musical and Literary Sources (with Links to Online Versions)

This page identifies the musical and literary sources that have inspired Sorabji to write several of his works, usually those bearing a descriptive or evocative title. In some cases references are given not to explain a title but to account for sources of inspiration or for quotations found within the works themselves. A number of titles incorporate the name of a dedicatee, in which cases only a brief note (further biographical details are given elsewhere). Though the list appears very extensive, only those works for which there are specific sources are listed here.

See the pages about soggetti cavati and the poets set by Sorabji; see also the page about related works by other composers for a list of works bearing a relationship with those by Sorabji, either before or after his contribution.

Full names (with birth and death years) and titles of musical and literary works (with opus or catalogue numbers and years) are given throughout. Bibliographical references to sources are provided whenever appropriate.

A bullet (•) identifies the editions that are likely (or known) to have been used by Sorabji. In the case of vocal works, there is always a possibility that he knew the texts from individual editions or anthologies rather than from complete editions.

Links to online versions of literary texts at stable sites like Project Gutenberg are given whenever possible. Direct links to scores in the public domain available on IMSLP — Petrucci Music Library are given; in the case of works often offered in several parts, like operas, the link is to the specific part. Several links on this page (marked with a PDF icon) can have a substantial loading time because they point to sizeable files. The scores may not be public domain in every country; the user must therefore comply with the regulations of his or her country.

The works are grouped into four categories corresponding to as many important periods in Sorabji’s compositional career.

  • 1914-1918 (early works)
  • 1919-1936 (from the meeting with Busoni to the end of his public career)
  • 1937-1972 (from the beginning of his life as a recluse to the hiatus in his compositional career)
  • 1973-1988 (from his meeting with Alistair Hinton, when he resumed composition, to his death)

1914-1918

Transcription of “In a Summer Garden” (1914; 0 p.): Frederick Delius (1862-1934), PDF In a Summer Garden (1908).

The Poplars (1915; 3 pp.): Jovan Dučić (1871-1943), “Jablanovi”, trans. as “The Poplars” by Paul Selver (1888-1970) in Paul Selver, An Anthology of Modern Slavonic Literature in Prose and Verse (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner; New York: E. P. Dutton, 1919), 287.

Chrysilla (1915; 4 pp.): Henri de Régnier (1864-1936), sonnet from “Médailles votives” (first of four parts that make up “Les médailles d’argile”), 15th poem out of 21, in Œuvres (Paris: Mercure de France, 1921-31; repr. ed., Geneva: Slatkine Reprints, 1978), 1: 34.

Roses du soir (1915; 4 pp.): Pierre Louÿs (1870-1925), “Roses dans la nuit”, from Les chansons de Bilitis, part 1, “Bucoliques en Pamphylie” (33rd poem out of 46), in “Les Chansons de Bilitis”, “Pervilegium Mortis” avec divers textes inédits, ed. Jean-Paul Goujon (Paris: Gallimard, 1990), 72. Sorabji misread Louÿs’s title.

L’heure exquise (1916; 2 pp.): Paul Verlaine (1846-96), La bonne chanson (1870): untitled poem (initial and final lines: “La lune blanche”, “C’est l’heure exquise”) (6th poem out of 21), in Œuvres poétiques, ed. Jacques Robichez, updated ed. (Paris: Éditions Messein, 1969, 1986), 120-21.

Apparition (1916; 5 pp.): Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-98), “Apparition” (ca. 1863-64, publ. 1883), in Œuvres complètes: poésies, ed. Carl Paul Barbier and Charles Gordon Millan (Paris: Flammarion, 1983), 290.

Hymne à Aphrodite (1916; 5 pp.): Laurent Tailhade (1854-1919), “Hymne à Aphrodite”, 7th poem out of 28 in a section entitled “Poèmes et bas-reliefs” (1880), in Le jardin des rêves: poésies (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre, Éditeur, 1880), 143-45.

L’étang (1917; 2 pp.): Maurice Rollinat (1846-1903), from a group entitled “Les spectres”, which of part of “Les névroses” (1882 or 1883), in Œuvres (Paris: Lettres modernes, Minard), 1972), vol. 2, Les névroses, 323 (original edition: Paris: Charpentier, 1923).

1919-1936

I Was Not Sorrowful — Poem for Voice and Piano [Spleen] (between 1917 and 1919; 3 pp.): Ernest Christopher Dowson (1867-1900), “Spleen”, in The Poems of Ernest Dowson, with a memoir by Arthur Symons, four illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley and a portrait by William Rothenstein (London and New York: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1905), 33. Another edition: The Complete Poems of Ernest Dowson, with illustrations by Elinore Blaisdell (New York: The Medusa Head, 1928), 25.

Le mauvais jardinier (1919; 1 p.): Iwan Gilkin (1858-1924), from La nuit, Collection des poètes français de l’étranger (Paris: Librairie Fischbacher, 1897), 48.

Trois fêtes galantes de Verlaine (ca. 1919; 11 pp.): Paul Verlaine (1846-96), “Fêtes galantes”, in Œuvres poétiques, ed. Jacques Robichez, updated ed. (Paris: Éditions Messein, 1969, 1986), 84 (“L’allée”, 4th poem out of 22), 85 (“À la promenade”, 5th poem out of 22), 85-86 (“Dans la grotte”, 6th poem out of 22).

Trois poèmes pour chant et piano (1918, 1919; 9 pp.)

Music to “The Rider by Night” (1919; 54 pp.): Robert Malise Bowyer Nichols (1893-1944), The Rider by Night (1919), published for the first time from the manuscript held by the British Library as part of my edition of the work (Bath: Sorabji Archive, 2008), 50-65.

Arabesque (1920; 2 pp.): The author is identified as Shamsuʾd-Dīn Ibrāhīm Mīrzā. Both the name and the source remain unknown, despite more than fifteen years of research.

Three Pastiches for Piano (1922; 17 pp.)

Le jardin parfumé: Poem for Piano Solo (1923; 16 pp.): Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Nafzawi (sixteenth century), Le jardin parfumé du Cheikh Nefzaoui: manuel d’érotologie arabe (Paris: Bibliothèque des curieux, 1912, 1922; Paris: Minerve, 1991). Other editions: The Perfumed Garden for the Soul’s Delectation, translated from the Arabic of the Shaykh Nafzawi (XV Saec.), vol. 1 (Paris and Benares: The Kamashastra Society, 1907); The Perfumed Garden of Shaykh Nefzawi, trans. Richard Burton, ed. Alan Hull Watson (New York: Berkley, 1978).

Rapsodie espagnole de Maurice Ravel: transcription de concert pour piano (first version, 1923; 16 pp.): Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), PDF Rapsodie espagnole (1907).

Cinque sonetti di Michelagniolo Buonarroti (1923; 40 pp.): Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), sonnets to Tommaso Cavalieri (written between 1531 and 1547), in •Die Dichtungen des Michelagniolo Buonarroti, herausgegeben und mit kritischem Apparate versehen von Carl Frey (Berlin: G. Grote, 1897; repr. ed., Berlin and New York: Walther de Gruyter, 1964), nos. XLV, LXXV, LXXVI, LXIV, L (pp. 34, 79, 80, 53, 39).

Concerto per pianoforte e piccola orchestra, “Simorg-Anka” [no. 7] (1924; 100 pp.): The simorgh, or simurgh, is a fabulous bird found in Iranian art and literature. It is also referred to in Gustave Flaubert (1821-80), Œuvres complètes de Gustave Flaubert (Paris: Club de l’Honnête Homme, 1973), vol. 9, La première et la deuxième tentation de saint Antoine, 1849 et 1956, 196-97 (1849), 375-76 (1856).

Variazioni e fuga triplice sopra “Dies irae” per pianoforte (1923-26; 201 pp.): Thomas of Celano (died ca. 1250), Dies irae (medieval sequence).

Fragment: Prelude and Fugue on FxAxx DAxEx (1926; 3 pp.): The person hidden in the title is Frank G. Davey, a friend of Sorabji about whom nothing is known.

Trois poèmes du “Gulistān” de Saʿdī (1926; 16 pp.): Abū Abdiʾllah Mušarrifuʾd-Dīn Ibn Muṣliḥud-Dīn Saʿdī (ca. 1200-ca. 1291), Le jardin des roses [The Rose Garden] (1258): “La lampe”, “La jalousie”, “La fidélité”, •translated from the Persian by Franz Toussaint (1879-1959) (Paris: A. Favard, 1912). The three poems selected by Sorabji are the second, fourth, and ninth stories.

L’irrémédiable (1927; 8 pp.): Charles Baudelaire (1821-67), from Les fleurs du mal, part 1 (of 6), Spleen et idéal (84th poem out of 85) (1857), in Œuvres complètes, ed. Michel Jamet, Bouquins (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1980), 58.

Toccata [no. 1] for Piano (1928; 66 pp.): The score reproduces as motto the third of the five paragraphs from the extended epigraph, titled “Sine me, Liber.....”, from John Payne (1842-1916), The Poetical Works of John Payne, 2 vols. (London: The Villon Society, 1902; repr. ed., New York: AMS Press, 1970), 2 (Narrative Poems): vii-viii.

Nocturne, “Jāmī” (1928; 28 pp.)

Sonata IV for Piano (1928-29; 111 pp.): The tempo indication of the second movement is followed by “Count Tasca’s Garden”, a reference to the Villa Tasca (built between 1555 and 1559, gardens transformed in 1855), which is located on the outskirts of Palermo, Sicily, on the drive leading to the Norman cathedral in Monreale, and would later serve as inspiration for Villa Tasca: mezzogiorno siciliano — evocazione nostalgica e memoria tanta cara e preziosa del giardino meraviglioso, splendido, tropicale (1979-80; 47 pp.).

Toccatinetta sopra C.G.F. (1929; 8 pp.): The letters of the soggetto cavato correspond to Clinton Gray-Fisk (1904-61), an American critic and writer who made his career in England.

Music for “Faust” (ca. 1930; 0 p.): Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), Faust: der Tragödie erster Teil (1808); Faust: der Tragödie zweiter Teil (1832).

Opus clavicembalisticum (1929-30; 253 pp.): Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), PDF Fantasia contrappuntistica, BV 256 (1910). From the “Shortform-Analysis of Opus Clavicembalisticum”: “This work is admittedly an essay in the form adumbrated by the immortal BUSONI in his great FANTASIA CONTRAPPUNTISTICA which, with the Hammerklavier Sonata and the REGER Variations on a theme of BACH[,] are the three supreme works for the piano.

Pasticcio capriccioso sopra l’op. 64, no 1 del Chopin (1933; 8 pp.): Frédéric Chopin (1810-49), PDF Waltz in D-flat Major, op. 64, no. 1 (1846-47).

Toccata seconda per pianoforte (1933-34; 111 pp.): Page 28 of the manuscript contains three references marked:

Sonata V (Opus archimagicum) (1934-35; 336 pp.): The subtitle and the titles of the first two parts (“Arcana minora” and “Arcana majora”) are references to the Tarot. The “Archimagus” used for the third section may be a reference to the title borne by the High Priest of the Persian Magi or simply mean “great magician”.

1937-1972

Fragment Written for Harold Rutland (1926, 1928, 1937; 2 pp.): The piece was written for Harold Rutland (1900-1977), a lecturer and examiner at Trinity College of Music and also an editor of The Musical Times

Tāntrik Symphony for Piano Alone (1938-39; 284 pp.): The titles of the seven movements refer to bodily centres and functions in tantric and shaktic yoga, with translitterations from Arthur Avalon (1865-1936, pseud. of Sir John George Woodroffe), Tantra of the Great Liberation (Mahānirvāna Tantra), translated from the Sanskrit, with introduction and commentary, by Arthur Avalon (London: Luzac, 1913; repr. New York: Dover Publications, 1972). For the titles of the movements, see the page Works > Titles of Works with Diacriticals.

Transcription in the Light of Harpsichord Technique for the Modern Piano of the Chromatic Fantasia of J. S. Bach, Followed by a Fugue (1940; 15 pp.)

“Quaere reliqua hujus materiei inter secretiora” (1940; 16 pp.): Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936), “Count Magnus”, repr. in The Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. James (London: Edward Arnold; New York: Longmans, Green, 1931), 99-119.

“Gulistān” — Nocturne for Piano (1940; 28 pp.): Abū Abdiʾllah Mušarrifuʾd-Dīn Ibn Muṣliḥud-Dīn Saʿdī (ca. 1200-ca. 1291), The Gulistan, or Rose Garden of Sa’di, translated by Edward Rehatsek, edited with a preface by W. G. Archer, introduction by G. M. Wickens (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1964). A copy of this edition was part of Sorabji’s library, though an earlier one was used.

St. Bertrand de Comminges: “He was laughing in the tower” (1941; 16 pp.): Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936), “Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book” (1894), in The National Review (London) 25, no. 145 (March 1895): 132-41, as “The Scrap-Book of Canon Alberic”, repr. in The Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. James (London: Edward Arnold; New York: Longmans, Green, 1931), 1-19.

Trois poèmes (1941; 13 pp.)

Études transcendantes (100) (1940-44; 456 pp.)

Rapsodie espagnole de Maurice Ravel: transcription de concert pour piano (second version, 1945; 26 pp.): Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), PDF Rapsodie espagnole (1907).

Transcription of the Prelude in E-flat by Bach (1945; 4 pp.): Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), PDF French Suite in E-flat Major, BWV 815a: “Prelude” (doubtful authenticity), in •Joh. Seb. Bach, Klavierwerke. Unter Mitwirkung von Egon Petri und Bruno Mugellini herausgegeben von Ferruccio Busoni, 25 vols. (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1894-1923), vol. 6, Französische Suiten, ed. Egon Petri (1918; repr. Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1989), 30-31. Modern edition: Johann Sebastian Bach, Neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke, ed. Johann-Sebastian-Bach-Institut Göttingen and Bach-Archiv Leipzig (Kassel, Basel, and London: Bärenreiter, 1954-), Series V, Klavier- und Lautenwerke, vol. 8, Die sechs Französischen Suiten, BWV 812-817, 814a, 815a; Zwei Suiten a-Moll und Es-Dur, BWV 818, 819, 818a, 819a, ed. Alfred Dürr (1980), 176-77.

Schlussszene aus “Salome” von Richard Strauss — Konzertmäßige Übertragung für Klavier zu zwei Händen (1947; 25 pp.): Richard Strauss (1864-1949), Salome, op. 54 (1903-5): “Ah! Du wolltest mich nicht deinen Mund küssen lassen, Jochanaan!” (1314-627).

Sequentia cyclica super “Dies irae” ex Missa pro defunctis (1948-49; 335 pp.): Thomas of Celano (died ca. 1250), Dies irae (medieval sequence).

Symphony [no. 2], “Jāmī”, for Large Orchestra, Wordless Chorus, and Baritone Solo (1942-51; 826 pp.)

Un nido di scatole sopra il nome del grande e buon amico Harold Rutland (1954; 26 pp.): Harold Rutland (1900-1977), a lecturer and examiner at Trinity College of Music and also an editor of The Musical Times.

Passeggiata veneziana sopra la Barcarola di Offenbach (1955-56; 24 pp.): Jacques Offenbach (1819-80), PDF Les contes d’Hoffmann (1881): “Barcarolle” (“Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour”) (act 2, no. 13; Giuletta and Niklausse, with chorus; Choudens score). The music is also heard in acte 2, no. 16bis (end of septett), act 2, no. 17 (finale; Giuletta and chorus) and act 3, no. 24 (Intermezzo, orchestra only).

Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra (1935-37, 1953-56; 540 pp.): Var. 56 alludes to the finale of Frédéric Chopin (1810-49), PDF Sonata no. 2 in B-flat Minor, op. 35 (1839).

Rosario d’arabeschi (1956; 45 pp.): The title, whose origin is unknown, was later used by the dedicatee, Sir Sacheverell Sitwell (1897-1988), “Rosario d’arabeschi: Poems and Rose Portraits [I. Belle Isis: Ballad of a Rose (that opens like a dancer’s tutu); II. O Rose with Two Hearts]”, in Poems of Our Time, 1900-1960, ed. Richard Church and Mildred Bozman, modern supplement chosen by Dame Edith Sitwell, Everyman’s Library, no. 981 (London: J. M. Dent & Sons; New York: E. P. Dutton, 1959), 322-25; later published as part of Rosario d’arabeschi (Brackley: Smart (Printers), 1972?).

Third Symphony for Piano Solo (1959-60; 144 pp.): The dedication to George Richards includes the words “sempre con fé sincera” from Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), PDF Tosca (1900): “Vissi d’arte” (act 2).

Suggested Bell-Chorale for St. Luke’s Carillon (1961; 1 p.): The piece was written for Norman P. Gentieu, who served as bell-ringer at St. Luke’s Church in Germantown, Pennsylvania, a city now incorporated into Philadelphia, located North-Northwest of the city center.

Fantasiettina sul nome illustre dell’egregio poeta Christopher Grieve ossia Hugh M’Diarmid (1961; 10 pp.): The work was written for the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1998), whose actual name was Christopher Murray Grieve.

Frammenti aforistici (Sutras) (104) (1962-64; 37 pp.): Sutras are precepts summarizing Vedic teaching; also a collection of these precepts; a discourse of the Buddha. See Swami Vireswarananda, Brahma-Sutras, with Text, Word-for-Word Translation, English Rendering, Comments and Index, 4th ed. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1970 [orig. ed., 1936]).

Toccata quarta (1964-67; 149 pp.): The fifth movement is marked “Intermezzo secondo. Of a neophyte and how the Black Art was revealed to him [actually “unto him by his Friend Asomuel (i.e., Insomnia)”], a reference to an illustration in pen and ink by Aubrey Beardsley (1872-98) for Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le morte d’Arthur, reproduced in James Mew, “The Black Art”, The Pall Mall Magazine 1, no. 1 (May 1893): 51-64 (Part I); 1, no. 2 (June 1893): 174-83 (Part II); 1/6 (October 1893): 820-32 (Part III).

Frammento cantato (1967; 1 p.): •Harold Morland (1908-99), My Seeking Spirit, Being Free Variations on Poems by Kalidasa [recte Kālidāsa], c. 500 A.D. (privately printed, 1966), 38 (out of 69 pp.), no. 8 of 90 items making up the section “The Could Messenger”.

1973-1988

Benedizione di San Francesco d’Assisi (1973; 2 pp.): San Francesco d’Assisi (1181 or 1182-1226), text of a benediction coming from Numbers 6: 24-26. See S. J. P. Van Dijk, “Saint Francis’ Blessing of Brother Leo”, Archivum franciscanum historicum 47 (1954): 199-201; “Bénédiction”, in Saint François d’Assise: documents, écrits et premières biographies, ed. Théophile Desbonnets and Damien Vorreux (Paris: Éditions franciscaines, 1968), 173; and “La ‘cartulata’ data a frate Leone; Le lodi di Di e la Benedizione al compagno prediletto”, in Gli scritti di San Francesco d’Assisi e “I fioretti”, ed. Augusto Vicinelli (n.p.: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1955), 206-10.

Variazione maliziosa e perversa sopra “La morte d’Åse” da Grieg (1974; 2 pp.): Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), incidental music to Peer Gynt (1876) by Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906). PDF Peer Gynt: dramatische Dichtung von H. Ibsen, Musik von Edvard Grieg (Leipzig: C. F. Peters, n.d.), “Åses Død” (no. 12, act 3, pp. 146-47).

Opusculum clavisymphonicum vel claviorchestrale (1973-75; 334 pp.): The second movement consists of “Variazioni sopra il Credo in qualsiasi modo del Gretchaninoff”. Aleksandr Tikhonovich Grechaninov (1864-1956), “Credo” from the Liturgy no. 2 of St. John Chrysostom, op. 29 (1902). Credo pour alto et choeur mixte (op. 29, no 8) (Paris: Édition A. Gutheil, 1934). Only two recordings exist of this rare piece.

“Il gallo d’oro” da Rimsky-Korsakov: variazioni frivole con una fuga anarchica, eretica e perversa (1978-79; 93 pp.): Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), Zolotoy petushok (The Golden Cockerel) (1906-7), act 1 (bars 1-6, 376-80, 390-94, 480-84, 662-65, 732-36, 785-88, 901-4, 1045-51, 1123-25, 1139-41, 1158-61; epilogue (bars 30-36), in Polioe sobranie sočinenij (Moscow and Leningrad: Gosudarstvennoe muzykal’noe izdatel’stvo, 1946-70), 15 a/b/c (PDF full score, 1950); 43 (vocal score, 1951).

Il tessuto d’arabeschi (1979; 32 pp.): The work was written in memory of Frederick Delius (1862-1934) and incorporates the musical letters of his name near the end.

Villa Tasca: mezzogiorno siciliano — evocazione nostalgica e memoria tanta cara e preziosa del giardino meraviglioso, splendido, tropicale (1979-80; 47 pp.): Villa Tasca (built between 1555 and 1559, gardens transformed in 1855) is located on Corso Calatafimi 446, on the outskirts of Palermo, Sicily, on the drive leading to the Norman cathedral in Monreale [Google Maps]. The villa, which Sorabji visited on one of his trips to Sicily, also inspired the second movement of Sonata IV for Piano (1928-29; 111 pp.). Sorabji quotes a song by Geni Sadero (1886-1961; pseud. of Eugenia Scarpia) found in the anthology Le più belle canzoni d’Italia. Raccolte, elaborate ed armonizzate [by] G. Sadero (English version by Dr. T. Baker) (New York: G. Schirmer, 1925), variously known as the “Sicilian Muleteer’s folksong” or “Sicilian Cartdriver’s Song”, but whose actual title is Amuri, amuri. A rare recording (originally released on His Master’s Voice) is available on a disc entitled “The Marchesi School” (Symposium 1188, released in 1995).

Passeggiata variata sul nome del caro e gentile giovane amico Clive Spencer-Bentley (1981; 3 pp.): The dedicatee, Clive Spencer-Bentley, was then a teacher at a boy’s preparatory school in Surrey, Hampshire.

Passeggiata arlecchinesca sopra un frammento di Busoni (“Rondò arlecchinesco”) (1981-82; 16 pp.): Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), PDF Rondò arlecchinesco, BV 266 (1915).

Due sutras sul nome dell’amico Alexis (1981, 1984; 2 pp.): The dedicatee, Robert William Procter (1945-2005), was nicknamed “Alexis” by his friend, the poet Harold Morland (1908-99). The name most probably refers to “fair Alexis”, the boy whom the shepherd Corydon loved in the Latin poet Virgile’s “Eclogue II” that is part of his Bucolics (42-39 B.C.). About the sutras, see the entry for Frammenti aforistici (Sutras) (104) (1962-64; 37 pp.).

Last modified: 2014-07-29
© Marc-André Roberge 2014
Sorabji Resource Site (SRS)
Faculté de musique, Université Laval, Québec

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