Interest in Occultism, Religion, Number Symbolism, and Eroticism

This page provides a chronological list of works by Sorabji that show an interest in, or a preoccupation with, such beliefs and traditions having to do with an awareness of spiritual matters. It also lists those works whose number of manuscript pages or number of sections such as variations features replication or repeated digits, such as 49, 64, 81, 100, etc. An excellent discussion of the matter will be found in SCC, 62-66.

The following abbreviations are used to identify the various categories; in some cases, more than one category (shown in alphabetical order) applies to a work.

  • E: Eroticism (including homoeroticism)
  • N: Numerology
  • O: Occultism (including legend and mystery)
  • R: Religion

See the details for the musical and literary sources of Sorabji’s works and a listing of works grouped by categories.

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Title Type Comments
Title Type Comments
Concerto pour piano et orchestra da camera [no. 3] (1918; 100 pp.) N The work consists of 40, 20, and 40 pages.
Concerto pour piano et grand orchestre [no. 4] (1918; 100 pp.) N The work consists of 40, 20, and 40 pages.
Sonata seconda for Piano (1920; 49 pp.) N, O The manuscript consists of 49 pages. Furthermore, it contains the inscription “Nec opus sit tibi null… credoni… malef… H. N. Sabbaticus” (May this work not be harmful to you, Redolent Goat of the Sabbath).
Symphony [no. 1] for Piano, Large Orchestra, Chorus, and Organ (1921-22; 300 pp.) N, O The manuscript consists of 300 pages. Furthermore, it contains the inscription “... and in that darkness they come”.
Black Mass (1922; 0 p.) O The title of this work, which is not extant, is self-explanatory.
Concerto pour piano et orchestra da camera [no. 3] (1918; 100 pp.) R The manuscript contains an inscription that is partly illegible as a result of being stuck deep inside the binding: “ALLAH.AKBAR. / To Ganesa [recte Ga{with dot under}eśa] Glory-<Shiv>-Reverence / (<> <><>) and <> <>”.
Opusculum for Orchestra (1923; 36 pp.) O The manuscript contains the mysterious sentence “... a rite not to be spoken, a deed of high Black Magic”.
Le jardin parfumé: Poem for Piano Solo (1923; 16 pp.) E, O The work refers to the title of a manual of Arabian erotology by Sheik al-Nafzwī. Furthermore, the manuscript contains the inscription “here Satan is invoked to rend asunder all such as we hate —”.
Cinque sonetti di Michelagniolo Buonarroti (1923; 40 pp.) E The work sets to music poems by the homosexual artist expressing his love for his young Roman nobleman friend Tommaso de’ Cavalieri.
Concerto per pianoforte e piccola orchestra, “Simorg-Anka” [no. 7] (1924; 100 pp.) N The manuscript consists of 100 pages, divided into 40, 20, and 40. Furthermore, the title refers to a fabulous bird found in Iranian art and literature.
Valse-fantaisie for Piano (1925; 16 pp.) R The manuscript contains the inscription “Deo gratias, et laudes. — To Ganès [recte Gan{with dot under}eśa] Remover of Obstacles / Salutations and Obeisances / To Allah praise —”.
Trois poèmes du “Gulistān” de Saʿdī (1926; 16 pp.) E The texts are expression of a man’s love for his friend.
Concerto V for Piano and Large Orchestra [no. 8] (1927-28; 344 pp.) N The last page is numbered 343. Furthermore, the third movement comprises a passacaglia with 48 variations.
Toccata [no. 1] for Piano (1928; 66 pp.) N The second movement is a passacaglia with 64 variations.
Toccatinetta sopra C.G.F. (1929; 8 pp.) N The work comprises a passacaglia with 33 variations.
Introduction, Passacaglia, Cadenza, and Fugue (1929; compl. Alexander Abercrombie, 2004; 79 pp.) N The composer had planned a passacaglia with 100 variations.
Opus clavicembalisticum (1929-30; 253 pp.) N The sixth movement is a theme with 49 variations and the third part of the ninth movement is a passacaglia with 81 variations.
Symphony no. 0 for Piano Solo (1930-31; 333 pp.) N The second section of the third movement is a theme with 64 variations.
Quintet II for Piano and String Quartet (1932-33; 432 pp.) N The second section of the second movement is a passacaglia with 100 variations.
Toccata seconda per pianoforte (1933-34; 111 pp.) N The manuscript consists of 111 pages.
Sonata V (Opus archimagicum) (1934-35; 336 pp.) N The last page is numbered 343a. Furthermore, the subtitle and the part titles refer to the Tarot.
Symphonic Variations for Piano (1935-37; 484 pp.) N The manuscript consists of 484 pages. Furthermore, var. 64 is a passacaglia with 100 variations.
Tāntrik Symphony for Piano Alone (1938-39; 284 pp.) E The titles of the movements refer to tantrik and shaktic yoga.
“Quaere reliqua hujus materiei inter secretiora” (1940; 16 pp.) O The title is taken from a ghost story by M. R. James.
St. Bertrand de Comminges: “He was laughing in the tower” (1941; 16 pp.) O The title is taken from a ghost story by M. R. James.
Études transcendantes (100) (1940-44; 456 pp.) N The set comprises 100 etudes and the number of pages of the manuscript is 456. Furthermore, etude no. 75 is a passacaglia with 100 variations.
Sequentia cyclica super “Dies irae” ex Missa pro defunctis (1948-49; 335 pp.) N The last page is numbered 343. Furthermore, var. 22 is a passacaglia with 100 variations.
Third Organ Symphony (1949-53; 305 pp.) N The second section of the third movement is a theme with 50 variations.
Un nido di scatole sopra il nome del grande e buon amico Harold Rutland (1954; 26 pp.) N The work consists of 16 sections.
Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra (1935-37, 1953-56; 540 pp.) N The work consists of 27 variations.
Messa grande sinfonica (1955-61; 1,001 pp.) N, R The manuscript consists of 1,001 pages and the “Gloria” is a theme with 48 variations (the last of which is numbered 49). Furthermore, the work is a setting of the Roman Catholic Mass.
Fourth Symphony for Piano Alone (1962-64; 240 pp.) N The fourth section of the second movement is a theme with 49 variations.
Frammenti aforistici (Sutras) (104) (1962-64; 37 pp.) R The title refers to precepts summarizing Vedic teaching; also a collection of these precepts; a discourse of the Buddha.
Toccata quarta (1964-67; 149 pp.) N, O The first movement is a theme with 24 variations, and the fourth movement is a passacaglia with 102 variations (the last of which is numbered 100). Furthermore, the fifth movement is subtitled “Of a neophyte and how the Black Art was revealed to him”, which refers to an illustration by Aubrey Beardsley for Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le morte d’Arthur.
Benedizione di San Francesco d’Assisi (1973; 2 pp.) R This work is the setting of a benediction by a saint.
Opusculum clavisymphonicum vel claviorchestrale (1973-75; 334 pp.) N, R The second movement is a theme with 39 variations, of which no. 21 is itself a theme with 27 variations. Furthermore, the theme is based on a liturgical work.
Sixth Symphony for Piano (Symphonia claviensis) (1975-76; 270 pp.) N The fifth section of the second movement is a theme with 64 variations.
Symphonic Nocturne for Piano Alone (1977-78; 113 pp.) N The last page of the manuscript is numbered 111.
“Il gallo d’oro” da Rimsky-Korsakov: variazioni frivole con una fuga anarchica, eretica e perversa (1978-79; 93 pp.) N The work consists of 49 variations, of which var. 18 is a passacaglia with 16 variations.
Opus secretum atque necromanticum (1980- 81; 48 pp.) O The work was inspired the composer’s “perennial interest and leanings thereunto”.
Due sutras sul nome dell’amico Alexis (1981, 1984; 2 pp.) R The title refers to precepts summarizing Vedic teaching; also a collection of these precepts; a discourse of the Buddha.
Last modified: 2019-05-27
© Marc-André Roberge 2019
Sorabji Resource Site (SRS)
Faculté de musique, Université Laval, Québec

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