Sorabji Resource Site (SRS)

Linguistic, Terminological, and Musical Problems in Titles of Works

This page draws attention to the titles of Sorabji’s works that contain linguistic oddities or mistakes resulting from his less than perfect handling of foreign languages, or other characteristics (including musical ones) that make his original titles incorrect. These mistakes led Paul Rapoport to provide editorially corrected titles in his catalogue of works published in SCC, 93-192; they were arrived at in discussion with Roberge in the months leading to the printing of the final version. These forms, with a few variants resulting from further research, are used on the Sorabji Resource Site and in Opus sorabjianum.

It is strongly suggested that Sorabji’s titles always be given in the normalized form used here and using the editorial capitalization proposed (see below) to avoid disseminating incorrect terminology or unidiomatic titles. Though the year of composition will usually be 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 proper forms in a dictionary. Examples of such linguistic creativity include (to mention only words used in his titles or interpretive 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 in fact be called Intrecciatura politematica.}
  • punta d’organo {Sorabji must have had in mind one of the following: the German Orgelpunkt, the French point d’orgue, or the English organ point, the last 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, instead of 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 movement’s fourth section, whereas he should have written punto d’organo costanziato if only to respect the term’s gender. However, the added adjective does not exist in Italian and should probably read costante, i.e., constant, continuous, steady. Using punto d’organo costante would have been better, but the best choice would be pedale costante.}

Overcapitalization: A problem that mars Sorabji’s titles as they appear in his manuscripts (and how they are reproduced in print) is overcapitalization. English has well-known rules according to which the first and last words and major words (nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and some conjunctions) are capitalized. On the other hand, French, Italian, and Latin do not live comfortably with an abundance of capital letters. French, for instance, which has traditionally applied a set of rather complex 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), it is always preferable, as recommended by the Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed., par. 11.6), to use this most simple method of capitalization.

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

Abbreviations: It is current in British publications to close up abbreviations such as ca., no., op., and p. (and their plural forms, if applicable) to the following figures, as recommenced by the New Oxford Style Manual (2012, par. 10.7). On the other hand, the Chicago Manual of Style always use a space, and this method is followed here.

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

Concerto per pianoforte e piccola orchestra, “Simorg-Anka” [no. 7] (1924; 100 pp.): The proper transliteration of the mythical bird’s name should be Sīmurgh-ʿAnq, but the simpler form has been 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 for space-saving purposes in Latin inscriptions. They are frequently seen in print in older publications but discouraged by the New Oxford Style Manual (2012, par. 12.12.1) unless in quoted matter that need to be reproduced verbatim.

Nocturne, “Jāmī” (1928; 28 pp.): Sorabji used a French transliteration reading 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 27 September 2011 on the Sorabji Forum, 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.) identifies 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; rather, it is used in a philosophical sense or describes 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 incorrect 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, the title should nevertheless read 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 referred to as [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 involving the orchestra, but a work for solo piano.

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

Last modified: 2021-05-21
© Marc-André Roberge 2021
Sorabji Resource Site (SRS)
Faculté de musique, Université Laval, Québec

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