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Favourite Expressions and Notable Quotations
This page lists various expressions that Sorabji liked to use in his correspondence with friends or in conversation as well as notable quotations culled from his writings in order to show what the “typical” (if sometimes extreme) Sorabji may have been. Sources are given when possible. Several of the favourite expressions come from my correspondence with Alistair Hinton, who often writes: “As K would have said...”
The quotations, even though they appear under a heading that identifies the point that Sorabji is trying to make, usually also cover many other topics. Furthermore, no attempt is made here to draw attention to how the author may have contradicted himself in other writings.
A crore of thanks
And that’s all for this nonce
Con fé sincera!
Go straight ahead; no objection at all!
In ogni cuore veramente siciliano arde il fuoco eterno dell’Etna
Modesty is the fig leaf of mediocrity
This berluddy nonsense
Though I sez it wot didn[’]t oughter
To that I shall look forward muchly
Your remarks anent
My especial concern, however, is not with the fact of the existence of these creatures [amateurs]: there they are — one has to allow for them as one allows for the presence of tubercle bacilli in milk, or typhoid germs in water, and take one’s precautions accordingly, by avoiding the milk and the water. My concern is with their vast pretensions, their staggering presumptions, their shameless flaunting of opinions upon matters of which they understand not even the alphabet.
“The Amateurs, or Thick Skins and Thicker Heads”, in Mi contra fa, 43.
The way in which this rubbish works to the end of the further demoralisation and besotment of the hearers is, I think, this. The hypnotic effect of remorselessly persistent drumming upon one metric pattern and its power to break down the conscious intellectual controls has been known from time immemorial. The uses to which it has been put are many; as any incitement to martial, erotic or fanatico-religious frenzy. Full use is made of it in modern popular music, and there is added the slithering, sticky, spineless melody which is still further denatured, still further reduced to shapelessness by the manner — the crooning manner — of its presentation. It does not require any exercise of the imagination to understand how the constant exposure of minds already stunted and crippled by the modern educational system, doped and debased by modern popular daily journalism and the cinema, to this inchoate backboneless stuff, with its total lack of clean clearly-defined lines, its lack of any organic and cohesive form — that is to say the organic and essential cohesion of a consistent and sustained train of musical thought — will still further promote and intensify the devil’s work already so well and truly done by those others, turning the victims still further into the mindless robots of preconditioned reflexes that is the aim and ideal of citizenship held up to these dolts by those who see very plainly what they are doing and WHY: namely, the establishment of themselves and their creatures as the Ruling Class armed with powers such as no hereditary aristocracy of any ancien régime ever possessed, or ever dreamed of claiming; the establishment, in fact, of what forty years ago Hilaire Belloc foresaw with unerring political sagacity, and whose advent approaches visibly at an ever increasing pace.
“Modern Popular Music as part of a plan of Progressive Besotment”, in Mi contra fa, 131-32. The last sentence contains 188 words.
… my own reverence, admiration and respect [for the Catholic Church] is unbounded, holding as I do that most, and perhaps all, that is one any value in European civilisation is Her work…
“Music and Muddleheadedness”, in Mi contra fa, 31.
The “choir-boy” tone is such a caricature that it is almost incredible that it should be admired, but that it is and very widely, even by people who ought to know better, I have convinced myself by careful inquiries. I have found that what they call the “pure sexlessness” of the boy’s voice is what an ear sensitive to tone would call a crowing hoot. […] There must be some unbalancing fascination in this noise to which I am constitutionally immune or some other quality therein of whose existence I am not conscious. But I have observed that this crowing quality, so typical of the English choir-boy voice, is not heard in the voices of Austrian or Italian choir-boys, which can sometimes almost be considered musical.
“The Contralto, the Gallon-Jug and Other Like Matters”, in Around Music, 166.
Egregious, Egotistical, Empty-pated and Exhibitionistical Sir:
Pray do not think that we are all not keenly conscious of the debt we owe you for the relief, the rich fund of the most comical of comic relief, that you provide in that dreary depressing and demoralising occupation of concert-going, and without which it would be unendurable.
Your strutting stalk, as of a rooster to the summit of his dunghill, your frozen and congealed state as of a taxidermatical parrot, combining in a quaint and unique manner the maximum of insolence with the maximum of imbecility, as you glance over audience and orchestra, that gesture of spurious generosity with which you invite the orchestra to share with yourself in the applause of a performance that, had you the wit to perceive it, is no compliment but an insult — a fact of which the orchestra show how plainly they are conscious by the air of embarrassed discomfiture with which they hastily resume their seats before you have had time to turn round, knowing well that they could have performed the work twenty times as well had it not been for your “interpretation,” your personal-all-too personal misreading of it, the much — and too ostentatiously — mopped brow of copious conductorial sweat, all that hyperactivity of sudatory glands to produce all that insignificance of result — what more “evidential,” than sodden under-garments as a proof of activities physical, if not intellectual or artistic? — all these things we saw and enjoyed with gurgles of glee — were they not the major part of the fun, the only part with any fun in it at all, any compensation for what you did to the music if and when you got to and at it?
“Open Letter to a Conductor”, in Mi contra fa, 188. The last paragraph contains 229 words.
I once remarked elsewhere on the present-day English dislike of manifestations of excellence in more than one field of creativity; I say present-day dislike, because I think it can justifiably be maintained that that adaptability and many-sidedness, once so conspicuous in the English that all the world gave it grudging admiration, is now as conspicuous by its absence, having been carefully milled, pressed, pounded and ground out of them by exercise and development of a free and untrammelled intelligence that the world has ever seen, namely the modern educational system.
“Rachmaninoff and Rabies”, in Mi contra fa, 170.
English law, with a perverse and original oddity recalling the “mad Englishman” of the eighteenth century — that stimulating and engaging eccentric that this land used to produce when it was still inhabited by individuals, rather than the members of a cinema audience, and when a capacity to think and feel for themselves had not been roller-milled out of them by an education process which leaves them with the correct ideas about everything and the right ideas about nothing — English law decrees that a kitten born in a kennel is a puppy, a piglet born in a stable a horse. I allude, of course,to the English nationality laws, which regard as what they call “British” anyone born within the confines of the lands at present under British rule: […]
The case of the Spanish-Sicilian-Parsi is the pick of the bunch. Here is one who, without one single drop of specifically “British” blood in his veins (a fact of which he is childishly proud, so it is understood), looking, thinking and feeling as much unlike a Briton as can well be imagined, having no sort of connection with English musical life (he neither performs, nor is his work performed, in this country), having no official status at any institution, combining, as he is wont to say himself, by a quaint device every quality most perfectly calculated to make him persona ingratissima with any official musical circle, an open and outspoken disbeliever in all the prescribed correct dogmas of the moment, musical, ideological, and political Left or Right, and far worse than all tracing his origin to a locale very far East of the East End of any handy Ghetto — the utmost of permissible, fashionably permissible, racial orientalism — even this freak, this monstrum has on occasion been described as a “British composer”! So the only conclusion one can possibly arrive at is that arrived by the King of Hearts upon a certain famous, and as crazy, occasion: “If there’s no meaning in it,” said the King, “we needn’t try to find any, and that saves the world a lot of trouble.”
“Portmanteau Words: or Those ‘British’ Composers”, in Mi contra fa, 76, 78-79.
And lastly, on the question of the erotically exciting effect of music as music pure and simple? I confess I have hardly any opinion to offer. As I have already said, to me and to many other musicians the notion is fantastic, grotesque. Of course, we have all heard about those strange people to whom such funny things happen when they listen to Tristan — some of them, we are told, even have to go home and change between the acts, so embarrassing are the effects. They are of a piece, I feel, with that worst type of sentimental amateur who pumps up emotions of moonlight (whatever they may be) when they hear a certain sonata of Beethoven, or who feel they are suffocating when they hear that one equally notorious composition of Rachmaninoff — people who must stick music on as a false caudal appendage to anything else on earth rather than accept it as just music first and last.
“Music and Sex”, in Around Music, 230-31.
One is often asked what one thinks the “future” of music is going to be in this country. […] Music, the most intimately and intensely personal, the most individual and individualistic of the arts, is not likely to be tolerated — except in the most Marks and Spencered, the most standardised and robotised of forms, after a war, whose real and concealed, as distinct form its loudly propagandised purpose, is the production of the unquestioning Robot in the Universal Servile State of Robots.
“The Decline of Music and Musical Taste in England (With some Reflections upon the future of Music”, in Mi contra fa, 94.
I well remember my own flattered astonishment when some good simple soul told me, after listening to my own Jardin parfumé, of the various rustic sounds he said he heard therein; the brook, the bees, the birds doing all the things you expect birds, bees and brooks to do — in their publishable moments. I could not forbear to ask the good soul if he also heard the rich purée d’épinard plop of the cows emptying their bowels, those least — so admirably least — costive of creatures, whose evacuations, performed with such nonchalance and brio, and full-bowelled ease, are such a shining example to the constipated idiots who live on and by them. … At any rate, I hastened to assure him that he ought to have heard it, if he heard all the other things he said he did … I’d no idea they were there!
“Music and Muddleheadedness”, in Mi contra fa, 24.
I am not a “modern” composer in the inverted commas sense. I utterly and indignantly repudiate that epithet as being in any way applicable to me. I write very long, very elaborate works that are entirely alien and antipathetic to the fashionable tendencies prompted, publicised and plugged by the various “establishments” revolving around this or that modish composer.
Why do I neither seek nor encourage performance of my works? Because they are neither intended for, nor suitable for it under present, or indeed any foreseeable conditions: no performance at all is vastly preferable to an obscene travesty. […] Why do I write as I do? Why did (and do) the artists-craftsmen of Iran, India, China. Byzantine-Arabic Sicily (in the first and last of which are my own ancestral roots) produce the sort of elaborate highly wrought work they did? That was their way. It is also mine. If you don’t like it, because it isn’t the present day done thing, that is just too bad, but not for me, who couldn’t care less. In fact, to me your disapproval is an indirect compliment and much less of an insult than your applause, when I consider some of your idols.
“A Personal Statement” (dated 14 October 1959), first published as “Statement by Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji” in Gambit: Edinburgh University Review, Summer 1965: 4.
To begin with, as I grow older, I find my dislike to my fellow-creatures increases by leaps and bounds: I find my own failings and foibles as much as I can bear with a becoming equanimity; those of others added I find an intolerable burden. The sight of them in their various degrees and kinds of physical and mental ugliness is a distasteful and humiliating reminder that I am one of them; that displeases me.
“‘Il Gran Rifiuto’”, in Mi contra fa, 142.
Of the many unwholesome symptoms in the musical life of our day, particularly in so far as England is concerned, is the prevalence of the charlatanry that goes under the name of “Musical Appreciation”, the art of growing two noses where only one grew before, or of growing a pair of long ears where only short ones grew — the natural happy-hunting-ground of the tricksters and humbugs, the knaves who swarm in a world of fools, that of music. Elaborate classes, for which fees are paid, piles of little books of instructions on how to listen, as if any conceivable means could teach those incapable of listening how to do so (as who should teach a man with no tongue how to lick), so many additional means of conveying cash more or less honestly from one set of pockets to another. Only the all-prevalent stupidity of our time could prevent people from being hoodwinked into the idea that that can be taught or imparted from one person to another than can only be learnt from within by one’s own personal efforts, that the only way to learn “how to listen” to music is just to listen to it, as the only way to learn how to taste is to taste.
“‘Musical Appreciation’”, in Around Music, 112.
It is extremely rare, even rarer among musicians than among other folk, I think, that a musician is a man of all-round high intelligence.
“‘Il Gran Rifiuto’”, in Mi contra fa, 143.
If we can be sure — if we ever can — of knowing what it [the ‘function’ of music] has done, what it does and how, we shall have got far beyond the furthest point reached by any of our industrious “musicologists” (unspeakable word … for an almost unspeakable thing!) in never so many incarnations, it seems to me.
“Introito”, in Mi contra fa, 15.
I find it impossible, and indeed wholly unnecessary, to try and work up interest in a musical event which repeats, for the thousand and first time, with all the average and mediocre indifference of performance of all the other thousand, what one may hear once or twice in years, superlatively well done at the hands of the Masters of the Art. As for those concerts at which the very latest and newest of second-hand music is done, those aquaria of goggle-eyed goldfish so very much in the swim, as one knows quite well beforehand how second-rate it all is, why submit to the boredom, irritation and waste of time betaking oneself to an event at which one stands the slenderest chance of being agreeably disappointed? […] Lastly, as a final incentive to my avoidance of concerts: to the concerts to which I do not wish to go, go all the people whom I do not wish to see, and to whom I do not wish to talk.
“‘Il Gran Rifiuto’”, in Mi contra fa, 142.
I want no “ivory tower,” but a Tower of Granite with plentiful supplies of boiling oil and molten lead handy to tip over the battlements on to the heads of unwanted and uninvited intruders on my privacy and seclusion.
“‘Il Gran Rifiuto’”, in Mi contra fa, 145.
Letter to Philip Heseltine, March. Early , 15.
Surely the greater the transmitting medium—the greater the artist, that is—more of this unending richness and complexity will pour through him to find expression in his work, and we should be glad of it and rejoice exceedingly, not expect him to dam down the flood of his thought into a pitiful, piddling trickle because of our feebleness and weakness. If the Amazon at flood sweep you away who try to breast its volume of waters, that is your misfortune, not the Amazon’s fault. But you have no right to expect the Amazon to flow through a bath tap with just the force and volume you happen to be able to bear. In any case you could have kept out of the Amazon’s way!
“Of Simplicity”, in Around Music, 119.
The gallon-jug-chest tone is an extraordinary phenomenon. For sheer ludicrousness and stupid ugliness it is almost impossible to beat, though the “fresh young voice” business and the damnable bleat of the choir-boy run it pretty close. Equally difficult to beat is the functioning contralto’s look of triumphant unction in the act of emitting it.
“The Contralto, the Gallon-Jug and Other Like Matters”, in Around Music, 164-65.
Moreover, women performers are quite shameless and unscrupulous in the way in which they so constantly trail the sexual red herring across the path of the public’s better judgment. The smirks, the mops and mows, the frank appeal to the basely sentimental side of the public’s nature, which can never resist the “charming girl” business, are simply so many devices to distract attention from musical shortcomings. […]
[…] Most of our women pianists and violinists have physiques that can only be described as miserable, narrow-chested, shallow bodies, bad carriage, emaciated arms, undeveloped muscles, feeble tissues; they look like the poor, mean, thin, pinched, anæmic sounds they produce from their instruments—pale, wan changelings of tone. They can in the very nature of things do no better, but it is preposterous even for such people to expect to become great players, or even good second-raters. […] The physical weakness communicates itself to the playing, inevitably and inexorably, with the result that we get the feeble, debile, thoroughly depressing and sickly playing that ninety-nine out of a hundred women give us.
“Against Women Instrumentalists”, in Around Music, 138-39, 139, 140.
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