Linguistic, Terminological, and Musical Problems in Titles of Works

This page draws attention to the titles of works by Sorabji containing linguistic oddities or mistakes that result from his less than perfect knowledge of foreign languages, or musical characteristics that make his original titles incorrect. The many mistakes found in the titles led Paul Rapoport to make corrections in his catalogue of works published in SCC, 93-192. With very few variants, these forms (arrived at in discussion with Roberge in the months leading to the printing of the final version) are also used in Opus sorabjianum and on the Sorabji Resource Site.

It is strongly suggested that the titles of Sorabji’s works always be given in the normalized form used here. Though the year of composition will usually be most welcome, the number of pages is an added luxury that is a hallmark of this website.

Non-standard forms: Sorabji often coined words instead of checking the proper form in a dictionary. Examples of such linguistic creativity include (to mention only words used in his titles or interpretive directions):

  • costanziata [recte costante]
  • intrecciata [recte intreccia]
  • maestrale [this form exists alongside “magistrale”]
  • punta d’organo (which should in fact be punto, as the term is obviously translated from the French point d'orgue) [recte pedale, or pedale d'armonia]

Overcapitalization: A problem that mars Sorabji’s titles as they appear in his manuscripts is overcapitalization. English has well-known rules according to which the first and last words and major words (nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and some conjunctions) are capitalized. On the other hand, French, Italian, and Latin do not live comfortably with an abundance of capital letters. French, for instance, increasingly relies on sentence-style capitalization for titles, whereby only the first word of a title or subtitle and proper names are capitalized. In any language other than English (and German, where all nouns begin with a capital), it is always preferable to use sentence-style capitalization.

Capitalization of numbers in a series and opus numbers: English-speaking writers often capitalize the words “no.” and “op.” as “No.” and “Op.” in titles of musical works. This practice is not exactly elegant from a typographical point of view, as these bibliographical precisions are simply technical additions without the significance of other words. The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed. (2010), pars. 8.190 and 8.191, indeed suggests that they be lowercased.

Roses du soir (1915; 4 pp.): The title of Pierre Louÿs’s poem on which this setting is based is “Roses dans la nuit”.

Hymne à Aphrodite (1916; 5 pp.): Sorabji used “Aphrodité”, i.e., with an acute accent on the last letter, which is found only in the original Greek. It has been argued that the odd spelling, found in the sonnet “La naissance d’Aphrodité” by the Cuban poet José María de Heredia (1842-1905), is justified because it works as a graphemic symbol and for the sake of a correct rhyme; see Stamos Metzidakis, “Visual Signals in Poetry”, in Understanding French Poetry: Essays for a New Millennium, ed. Stamos Metzidakis (Birmingham, Ala.: Summa Publications, 2001), 71-86; 79-80. Contrary to what is sometimes seen, the title of Pierre Louÿs’s novel is Aphrodite (no accent), as is Camille Erlanger’s opera.

Sonata no. 0 for Piano (1917; 30 pp.): This pre-first unnumbered sonata, listed in SCC as “Sonata [for Piano], Op. 7”, has become known as mentioned here, with the number “0”, following the model of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony no. 0, “Die Nullte”.

Cinque sonetti di Michelagniolo Buonarroti (1923; 40 pp.): Sorabji used the older spelling “Michelagniolo” instead of the more current “Michelangelo”. This peculiarity has been respected. Note that the family name of the Italian master takes two r’s and one t.

Concerto per pianoforte e piccola orchestra, “Simorg-Anka” [no. 7] (1924; 100 pp.): The proper transliteration of the mythical bird’s name should be “Sīmurgh-ʿAnqā”, but the simpler form has been preferred.

Nocturne, “Jāmī” (1928; 28 pp.): Sorabji used a non-scientific French transcription reading “Djâmî”.

Symphony no. 0 for Piano Solo (1930-31; 333 pp.): The original title of this work is Symphony II for Piano, Large Orchestra, Organ, Final Chorus, and Six Solo Voices (1930-31; 333 pp.). In April 2012, as a result of a discussion thread started by Jakub Eisenbruk on 27 September 2011 on the Sorabji Forum, I renamed it as mentioned here to make it clear that it is a work for piano solo.

Études transcendantes (100) (1940-44; 456 pp.): Sorabji used “Études transcendentales”, probably following the model of the English form of the title Liszt’s etudes, which is “Transcendental Etudes”. This word, in French, does not mean something that rises above a certain level; rather, it is used in a philosophical sense or describes a type of meditation. Brian Ferneyhough has a song cycle in nine movements for mezzo-soprano and chamber ensemble entitled Études transcendantales (1982-85).

Concerto da suonare da me solo e senza orchestra, per divertirmi (1946; 70 pp.): Sorabji used the incorrect preposition “per” instead of “da”. Rapoport (SCC, 153) suggested that “divertirmi” would be better than “divertirsi”; his solution is adopted here. In fully idiomatic Italian, the title should nevertheless read Concerto composto per me soltanto, per il mio divertimento.

Symphony [no. 2], “Jāmī”, for Large Orchestra, Wordless Chorus, and Baritone Solo (1942-51; 826 pp.): This work used to be referred to as “[no. 3]” because no. 2 was Symphony II for Piano, Large Orchestra, Organ, Final Chorus, and Six Solo Voices (1930-31; 333 pp.), now renamed to Symphony no. 0 for Piano Solo (1930-31; 333 pp.) to reflect the fact that it is in no way a work involving the orchestra, but a work for solo piano.

Messa grande sinfonica (1955-61; 1,001 pp.): Sorabji used “Messa alta sinfonica”, which he probably derived from “High Mass” or from the German “Hohe Messe”. In Italian the correct form is “grande”; other possibilities would be “messa in grande”, “messa solenne”, “messa presbiteriale”, “messa maggiore”, and “messa in terzo”.

Concertino non grosso for String Sextet with Piano obbligato quasi continuo (1968; 48 pp.): Sorabji called this work a string septet because he originally wanted to have four violins, one viola, and two cellos. He ended up writing only one cello part, hence the revised title. The original title is used in SCC.

“Il gallo d’oro” da Rimsky-Korsakov: variazioni frivole con una fuga anarchica, eretica e perversa (1978-79; 93 pp.): Sorabji used “gallino”, which does not exist in Italian. On the other hand, “gallina” is the feminine form of “gallo” (cockerel).

Villa Tasca: mezzogiorno siciliano — evocazione nostalgica e memoria tanta cara e preziosa del giardino meraviglioso, splendido, tropicale (1979-80; 47 pp.): The longer form of the title — a most remarkable example of evocative title — is preferred to the shorter form that also appears on the manuscript (Villa Tasca: mezzogiorno siciliano — evocazione nostalgica).

Opus secretum atque necromanticum (1980-81; 48 pp.): Sorabji used “Opus Secretum” on the first page of music of his work, but the title page of the manuscript (whose location was unknown at the time of publication of SCC) has “atque necromanticum” added in darker ink after the first two words.

Last modified: 2019-01-01
© Marc-André Roberge 2019
Sorabji Resource Site (SRS)
Faculté de musique, Université Laval, Québec

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