Sorabji Resource Site (SRS)

Linguistic, Terminological, and Musical Problems in Titles of Works

This page draws attention to those titles of Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji’s works that contain linguistic peculiarities or mistakes resulting from his less than perfect command of foreign languages, or other features (including musical ones) that render his original titles incorrect. These errors prompted Paul Rapoport, in his catalogue of works published in SCC, 93-192, to use editorially corrected titles, arrived at in discussion with Roberge in the months before the final version was printed. These forms, with some variations resulting from further research, are used on the Sorabji Resource Site and in Opus sorabjianum.

It is strongly recommended that Sorabji’s titles always be given in the normalized form used here, and with the suggested editorial capitalization (see below), to avoid the proliferation of incorrect terminology or unidiomatic titles. Although the year of composition is usually most welcome, the number of pages is an added luxury that is a hallmark of this website to always make it easy to gauge the size of a work, especially in comparison with others mentioned at the same time.

Non-standard forms: Sorabji often coined words instead of looking up the correct forms in a dictionary. Examples of such linguistic creativity include (to mention only words used in his titles or interpretative directions and not in his correspondence):

  • costanziata {See the explanation below for punta d’organo}
  • intrecciata {Sorabji should have used intrecciatura, i.e., intertwining. The word intrecciata is the feminine form of the past participle of the verb intrecciare. It is used in the title of the first movement of Second Symphony for Piano (1954; 248 pp.), which should really be called Intrecciatura politematica.}
  • punta d’organo {Sorabji must have had one of the following in mind: the German Orgelpunkt, the French point d’orgue, or the English organ point, the latter of which is now considered ambiguous and is properly called “pause”, “fermata”, “pedal”, or “pedal point” (for a full discussion of the terminological problem, see David Fuller, “Organ point”, Grove Music Online). He translated it into Italian as punta d’organo without realizing that punta (feminine) refers to the sharp tip of an object, rather than punto (masculine), which is a point. In Italian there is no such thing as punto d’organo to describe a pedal point, which is called pedale or pedale d’armonia. The term punto d’organo is found in some very old sources to refer to a cadenza at the end of a vocal or instrumental piece. In Italian, the French point d’orgue, which corresponds to a fermata, is called corona or punto coronato. In the Second Symphony for Piano (1954; 248 pp.), Sorabji used punta d’organo costanziata for the fourth section of the fourth movement, when he should have written punto d’organo costanziato if only to respect the gender of the term. However, the added adjective does not exist in Italian and should probably be costante, i.e., constant, continuous, steady. It would have been better to use punto d’organo costante, but the best choice is pedale costante.}

Overcapitalization: One problem that plagues Sorabji’s titles as they appear in his manuscripts (and as they are reproduced in print) is overcapitalization. English has well-known rules that capitalize the first and last words and the main words (nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and some conjunctions). On the other hand, French, Italian, and Latin do not live comfortably with an abundance of capital letters. French, for example, which has traditionally uses a rather complex set of rules, increasingly relies on sentence-style capitalization for titles, where only the first word of a title or subtitle and proper names are capitalized. For languages other than English (and German, where all nouns begin with a capital letter), it is always preferable to use this simplest method of capitalization, as recommended by the Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed., par. 11.6). This is also the style followed by the New Grove Dictionary of Music.

Capitalization of numbers in a series and opus numbers: English-speaking writers often capitalize the words no. and op. as No. and Op. in the titles of musical works. This practice is not very elegant from a typographical point of view, since these bibliographical precisions are simply technical additions without the meaning or significance of other words. In fact, the Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed., pars. 8.195 and 8.196) suggests that they should be lowercased.

Abbreviations: In British publications, it is common to close up abbreviations such as ca., no., op., and p. (and their plural forms, where applicable), as recommended by the New Oxford Style Manual (2012, par. 10.7). The Chicago Manual of Style, on the other hand, always use a space, and this method is followed here.

Use of definite articles before titles: The practice on the Sorabji Resource Site and in Opus sorabjianum regarding the use of a definite article before a title is to use one for generic and mixed titles, and none for evocative titles. Examples of the first and second types are the Concerto pour piano et grand orchestre [no. 4] (1918; 100 pp.) and the Frammento cantato (1967; 1 p.), respectively; evocative titles are those of works such as Opus clavicembalisticum (1929-30; 253 pp.) and Un nido di scatole sopra il nome del grande e buon amico Harold Rutland (1954; 26 pp.).

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 example 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 common Michelangelo. This peculiarity has been respected. Note that the family name of the Italian master has two r’s and one t.

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

Variazioni e fuga triplice sopra “Dies irae” per pianoforte (1923-26; 201 pp.), Sequentia cyclica super “Dies irae” ex Missa pro defunctis (1948-49; 335 pp.): The ligatures æ and œ were used in Latin inscriptions to save space. They are often seen in print in older publications, but are discouraged by the New Oxford Style Manual (2012, par. 12.12.1), except in quotations that must be reproduced verbatim.

Nocturne, “Jāmī” (1928; 28 pp.): Sorabji used a French transliteration that reads Djâmî. More correct forms are Ǧāmī and Jāmī (the latter preferred by SCC and on this website).

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 the Sorabji Forum on 27 September 2011, I renamed it as mentioned here to make it clear that it is a work for piano solo.

Symphonic Variations for Piano (1935-37; 484 pp.): This title designates the original version for piano solo, hence the omission of the [and Orchestra] used by the composer. The form Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra (1935-37, 1953-56; 540 pp.) denotes the later version with orchestra.

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, but is used in a philosophical sense or to describe 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 wrong 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, however, the title should be 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 called [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 for orchestra, but a work for piano solo.

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 an 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 (the location of which was unknown at the time of publication of SCC) has atque necromanticum added in darker ink after the first two words.

Last modified: 2024-03-05
© Marc-André Roberge 2024
Sorabji Resource Site (SRS)
Faculté de musique, Université Laval, Québec

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