About the Sorabji Archive

By Alistair Hinton

In 1969, I found by chance, in Westminster Library, London, a copy of Sorabji’s early published masterpiece, Opus Clavicembalisticum — a monumental solo piano work some 4½ hours long. Its score created a profound impression. Like most musicians, however, I knew nothing of its composer. My efforts at discovery were thwarted at every turn, information being elusive, conflicting and unreliable. However, Humphrey Searle, with whom I was studying, had attended a 1936 performance of part of Opus Clavicembalisticum, knew a little about Sorabji. He proved encouraging and helpful, lending me a copy of the long out-of-print Mi Contra Fa: The Immoralisings of a Machiavellian Musician.

I corresponded with Sorabji from 1972 and met him later that year at his Corfe Castle, Dorset, home a week after his 80th birthday. This first of many visits initiated a priceless friendship and professional association. Caring for the fate of his music, I made what the redoubtable Nicolas Slonimsky may have called “manifold endeavors” to focus attention on it and persuade him to sanction public performance by musicians of his choice. His entrenchment made it a daunting task. Disinterested in public opportunities to hear his work, he had already refused proposed performances. Never obstructive for the sake of it, his personal warmth and spiritual generosity were as unfailing as they were legendary. Whilst its scope was unprecedented, his desire to protect himself from inadequate presentation was hardly unreasonable.

In 1976, Sorabji finally relented in favour of Yonty Solomon, who performed some early piano works at a momentous London recital in December that year. This inevitably led to increasing international interest in his music; following Solomon’s pioneering, more performers presented authorised performances, broadcasts and commercial recordings, laying to rest at last the long-held myth of its unplayability. In suitable conditions, Sorabji permitted — even encouraged — this once he recognised the existence of musicians capable of doing it justice. Cognoscenti of the major keyboard works do not predict such compendia of fearsome difficulties becoming “standard repertoire”, but whilst the music hurls uniquely forbidding challenges at performers, it exerts an immediate intellectual and emotional grip on listeners.

An ironical consequence of the burgeoning Sorabji performing tradition was that, as his music became more accessible to the ear, so it became less so to the eye; increased sales of publications ran them out-of-print from 1977. Protracted discussions with the composer led to my founding The Sorabji Music Archive to caretake all his works; we have actively continued to develop its collection, encourage research and assist in the preparation of performing editions ever since. Established in 1988 and renamed in 1993, The Sorabji Archive’s collection of literature by and about Sorabji includes articles, essays, reviews and previews of publications, performances and recordings, personal correspondence, “letters-to-the-editor”, performance and broadcast history, discography and much else. We issue copies of his remarkable scores and writings to the public worldwide and welcome visits by appointment from performers and scholars.

Distinguished musicians, including Marc-André Roberge, Chris Rice and several outstanding Sorabji performers, have already prepared a number of definitive editions of Sorabji’s works and more of these are in progress; in particular, Kevin Bowyer’s exquisitely calligraphed edition of Organ Symphony No. 2, a staggering 396 A3 landscape pages, has to be seen to be disbelieved. The possibility of accurate representations in performance of Sorabji’s music will arise only as a result of such work. The Sorabji Archive is immeasurably grateful to each member of its expanding corpus of score editors who expend unstinting patience and hard work voluntarily without expectation of financial benefit.

The Sorabji Archive does not enjoy charitable status. Its foundation was wholly self-funding; its operation has remained so ever since. We receive no public or private sponsorship, grants or subsidies. Our continued existence and future are dependent entirely upon the proceeds of sales of scores, literature and recordings and upon royalties from performances, broadcasts and recordings.

All rights in all Sorabji’s musical and literary works are vested exclusively within The Sorabji Archive.