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

Another problem we encountered was that of communication. It was all very well having this material available to copy and distribute, but how might we access and advise those performers, private scholars, conservatories and universities, etc., of its existence, location and availability? In the early days, this was down to expensive speculative mailshots which, while useful, cost far more than resultant orders could fund. And then came the Internet. Whatever time-wasting this facility has encouraged, it has to be said that the mere existence of a website which announces “here we are, this is what we are called, this is what we have and supply and this is what we do” was sufficient to sweep away at a stroke all the time- and fund-consuming snail-mailings. I confess, shamefully, to having not the slightest idea how to create and maintain a website so, once again, we are immensely thankful that someone was prepared to step in to prepare one and arrange its maintenance at their own expense. It serves that vital purpose of pointing enquirers at a means of obtaining scores, literature, recordings and all manner of other information about Sorabji. So, we survive!

Sorabji’s centenary was marked not only by performers and broadcasters but also by publication of Sorabji: A Critical Celebration (Scolar Press, UK), a multi-author symposium edited by Prof. Paul Rapoport. This first full-length survey of Sorabji was reprinted in 1994. One of its contributors, Prof. Marc-André Roberge, has prepared a substantial Sorabji biography for which publication details are currently awaited.

Cognoscenti of the major keyboard works of Sorabji would still wisely refrain from predicting that such compendia of fearsome difficulties might become “standard repertoire,” yet while the music hurls uniquely forbidding challenges at performers, almost 30 years of listening experience has demonstrated beyond question that it exerts an immediate intellectual and emotional grip on listeners.

[This article is updated from an earlier online publication, at The article included further biographical information on Alistair Hinton, which we reproduce below.]

Composer Alistair Hinton was born in Scotland. His early work attracted the interest of Benjamin Britten, with whose advice and help he attended Royal College of Music London for lessons with Humphrey Searle and Stephen Savage. His music dates from 1962 but he destroyed much of his pre-1985 output. He has published articles and reviews in journals including Tempo, The Organ, International Piano Quarterly, The Godowsky Society Newsletter and The Ronald Stevenson Society Newsletter, acted as executive producer of various recordings and contributed to radio and television productions in several countries including USA, Scotland, Netherlands and England. Numerous distinguished artists have performed, broadcast and recorded his music, which includes chamber, orchestral and organ works, songs and an extensive contribution to piano repertoire.

His friendship and professional association with the Parsi composer Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji (1892–1988) began in 1972 and led eventually to public performances of Sorabji’s works later in the 1970s and his foundation of The Sorabji Archive in the 1980s. The archive has assembled extensive collections of literature by and about Sorabji, issues copies of his remarkable scores and writings to the public worldwide and welcomes visits by appointment from performers and scholars. With the archive’s encouragement, a number of musicians have prepared definitive editions of Sorabji’s works; more are in progress. Their existence is vital in ensuring accurate and authoritative representations of Sorabji’s music in performance.

The Sorabji Archive does not enjoy charitable status. Its foundation was wholly self-funding and its operation has always remained so. Its existence is dependent entirely on proceeds of sales of scores, literature and recordings and on royalties from performances, broadcasts and CDs.

The archive issues a brochure (available by e-mail) including a catalogue of music and literature with supply prices, details of first editions, a discography with reviews and information on the book Sorabji: A Critical Celebration, the first full-length volume about the composer. All information in this brochure is regularly updated.

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

[Many readers have no doubt encountered Sorabji, but Alistair Hinton is likely to be another matter. Altarus currently offers three of his works, with more promised. Pansophiæ for John Ogdon (1990) is a 44-minute organ piece included on an Ogdon tribute, and the hour-long Variations and Fugue on a theme of Grieg (1970–78) perhaps echoes Sorabji (the dedicatee) in its scope. His String Quintet (string quartet + double bass, 1969–77) has its admirers. The final movement adds a soprano and lasts two hours. One description, “a vast edifice of epic intimacy,” sounds apt. W.M.]