Alistair Hinton: And who exactly is Sorabji? (3/4)

Sorabji had given some of his manuscripts away over the years but kept reasonably clear documentation identifying where most such material had gone. Detective work had to be done to establish the location of a few other manuscripts; some simply remained off limits or — missing presumed dead — and a few more that had not been seen for many years came unexpectedly to light. Finally, the bulk of this material was to hand, ready to copy. One of the results of Sorabji’s friendship with Dutch composer Bernard van Dieren (1887-1936) was a developing interest in the bookbinder’s art. Although he never explored its practice as thoroughly as did his elder colleague, it did encourage him to have many of his manuscripts leather-bound to a high standard. Consequently, all these bound manuscripts had to be professionally dismantled by a specialist bookbinder, photocopied and then re-bound in their original covers by the same bookbinder. Furthermore, all Sorabji’s large orchestral scores were of non-standard size and, just to make matters even more irksome, he had long since developed the bizarre habit of writing the percussion section material in separate scores and even having these bound separately from the remainder. Much fun was therefore had in trying to force all this disparate and incompatibly-sized material intelligibly onto A3 paper. An A2 copier had to be hired in to accommodate Sorabji’s wonderfully recalcitrant orchestral material. Eventually, all was completed. It had taken quite some time.

The next part of the project was assembling, collating and master-copying all his published literary writings; this was much assisted by the sterling labours of Prof. Paul Rapoport and Kenneth Derus’ existing indexed collection of that part of this material which appeared in the five journals to which Sorabji contributed most frequently, but it still involved a considerable amount of traveling to trawl through archives of other journals seeking Sorabjian needles in dusty literary haystacks.

Once all this was completed, a comprehensive name-and-place index for Sorabji’s entire published literary writings was prepared as a labour of love by a now-deceased enthusiast, and the creation of new editions of scores could be encouraged. The purpose of the Sorabji Archive has from the outset been to caretake all the composer’s works, musical and literary, to develop its collection and encourage scholarly research. The existence of the master copies has helped to facilitate the most significant progress; that is to say, the preparation of new, authentic performing editions of the composer’s scores. This is the one vital activity which Sorabji unfortunately did not live long enough to witness, as it began in earnest only just after he died. It continues today. The more recent ongoing development of music-processing software has facilitated editions in printed form. Accurate performances of Sorabji’s music can 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 gain, for the benefit of the Sorabji cause.

It is as well to get that credit in before returning briefly to Sorabji’s unarguable fears about the expense of making all this possible. The setting up of the Sorabji Archive and its material was indeed a very costly process. From its inception, it has enjoyed no public, corporate or individual private subsidy and has always relied for its financial survival upon the net proceeds of sales of scores, literature and recordings and royalties from performances, broadcasts and CDs.

Inevitably, these have been wholly disproportionate to the amounts expended upon enabling them. After a while, the discrepancy between the expenditure and the consequent income became strained to a point where Mr. Micawber would have long since expired from apoplexy, with the result that the premises housing the Sorabji Archive were about to be sold from over its head. This was a particularly galling sword of Damocles, since the archive is run from the building where I myself live. The only escape from that Damoclean auctioneer’s hammer seemed at the time to be through the possible sale of our collection of Sorabji manuscripts and this is what eventually had to occur. Anxious that they would not therefore be forced to go to the four winds, I entertained the fond hope that they could all go to one library where they would be properly caretaken and made part of a collection available to researchers. Fortunately, this was the exact outcome, all but one of those manuscripts once in our possession finding their eventual way to the Paul-Sacher-Stiftung in Basel, where they remain to this day.