Sorabji Resource Site (SRS)

Sketches and Fragments

This page describes the few extant sketches by Sorabji, all dating from ca. 1955 to ca. 1976, as well as a few other fragments found in letters and scores. The composer, during his long career, may have made other sketches, especially as reminders (aide-mémoire) of the four forms of his fugue subjects, but destroyed them once they were no longer needed. On several occasions between 1973 and 1977, he sent his extant sketches to Alistair Hinton, for whom some were written expressly. We cannot exclude that he may have given others to various friends, and these would be part of private collections.

The items grouped under Sketches were acquired (in 2014) by the Paul Sacher Stiftung (Basel). The new ownership was announced in “Sammlungsergänzungen”, Mitteilungen der Paul Sacher Stiftung, no. 28 (April 2015): 12-17; 16, where they are described as “Skizzen, Entwürfe und Reinschriftfragmente” (sketches, drafts, and fair copy fragments).

The sketches were provided to the Sorabji Resource Site by the Sorabji Archive as a 35-page PDF file, and Alistair Hinton was very helpful in finding solutions to various issues. The table below describes the sketches as completely as possible, with relevant references to the manuscripts to which they refer. In some cases matches for the music could not be found in the composer’s manuscripts despite several passes.

Many of the fragments bear descriptive or explanatory comments by the composer (identified here by “KSS:”), to which Alistair Hinton later identified the works to which they refer or added explanations (identified here by “AH:”). His original comments are all followed by his initials in parentheses; they are omitted here and used only in the headings. An em dash (—) in the second column means that the sketch cannot be associated with a specific work. Slashes (/) show line breaks in the composer’s inscriptions (but not for Hinton’s).

The sketches belong to the following categories, which are entered in the second column of the relevant table:

  • 1: Transcription of one or more systems from a work being composed (nos. 6-10-13, 17-18, 21, 24-26)
  • 2: Tryout of motives, themes, or chord progressions (nos. 13, 16, 19, 20, 22, 29-35)
  • 3: Tabulation of fugue subjects in their four forms (nos. 1, 2, 14, 15)
  • 4: List of themes to be used in a work (nos. 3, 4, 27, 28)
  • 5: Short fragments written to try out a new pen (no. 23)
  • 6: Title page (no. 5)

Sketches

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Number Category Work Description and Comments
Number Category Work Description and Comments
1 3 Messa grande sinfonica (1955-61; 1,001 pp.) KSS: “From the Mass”

Four one-staff systems setting the words “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison”, marked “Recto”, “Inversus”, “Cancrizans”, and “Cancrizans inversus”, showing the subject of the first fugue starting on p. 66 (section 7 of the Kyrie in the analytical outline provided elsewhere) and its four forms.
2 3 Messa grande sinfonica (1955-61; 1,001 pp.) AH: “This also seems not to have materialised in either Piano Symphony No. 5 or No. 6 — in spite of the A.H. references.”

The music is the same as in no. 1, consisting of the fugue subject of the “Kyrie” of Messa grande sinfonica (1955-61; 1,001 pp.) in its four forms, but, as indicated by the composer at the top of the page, in “Augmentation”. There is no text underlay as in no. 1. The augmentation starting on E (rather than on A) can be seen in a stretto starting on p. 84.
3 4 Toccata quarta (1964-67; 149 pp.) AH: “for Toccata IV”

This sketch, which continues in no. 4, shows five themes used in the work (nos. 1-5 in no. 3, and nos. 6-9 in no. 4), with two insertions for the titles of the movements:
  • 1: Marked “Frank Holliday”, showing the theme of the “Quasi corale” (p. 14) carved out of the letters forming the dedicatee’s name.
  • 2: Theme of movement I
  • Toccata. Introito. Corale: — Moto perpetuo (Intermezzo 1): — Passacaglia — Intermezzo 2 (of a neophyte and how the Black Art was revealed to him) — Cadenza — Fuga {Each of these movement titles is numbered from 1 to 7. Another entry, marked “7”, is followed by “Preludio Adagio — Fuga”.}
  • Two short beamed groups consisting of four notes each {as yet unidentified; the composer may simply have used this piece of paper to check a rhythmic motive}
  • 3-5: Preliminary version of the music found at the beginning of the “Quasi corale” (movement II, p. 14), up to the system’s penultimate beat.
  • “III. Intermezzo primo: (a) Perpetuo: (b) Punta d’Organo. (c) Notturno. Aria
  • “Passacaglia theme” (p. 50)
4 4 Toccata quarta (1964-67; 149 pp.) Continuation of the themes listed in no. 3:
  • 6: Melodic line used in the “Quasi corale” (p. 16/2/1, top staff; then p. 16/2/2, second staff from top; finally p. 16/3/1 top staff)
  • 7: Melodic line in the “Quasi corale”, with some modifications (p. 17/2/1)
  • 8: Melodic line used in the “Quasi corale” (p. 18/1)
  • 9: Dotted melodic line used in the “Quasi corale” (p. 18/4) followed by a five-note motive in accented notes {as yet unidentified}
  • Two series of chords in both hands, one used in the “Quasi corale” (p. 24/4), the other from the beginning of the “Preludio adagio” (p. 112)
5 6 Frammenti aforistici (Sutras) (104) (1962-64; 37 pp.) KSS: “To my old friend, not, that is, in years of age but of friendship, / Harold Morland. / Sutras. / Frammenti aforistici. [Ornamental line] / Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji: / MCMLXII et seq.”

AH: “Original title/dedication page for 103 (104) Frammenti Aforistici (Sutras), later inscribed to (and once throughout to be dedicated to) Donald Garvelmann; this page is separate from the main ms.”
6 1 Symphonia brevis for Piano (1973; 120 pp.) KSS: “Frammento aforistico / [Ornamental line] / e forse la radice d’uno [recte d’un] lavoro / molto più grande. Vedremo!!!!” {“Aphoristic fragment and probably the root of a much larger work. We'll see.” The ending of “Vedremo” overwrites an illegible previous version.}

AH: “(re: Piano Symphony No. 5.) / Sketch dated 29.03.1973. from Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji / Not really an Aphoristic Fragment, but....”

Part of a four-page unit comprising nos. 6-9. No. 7 contains the music for which no. 6 is a footnote suggesting that what would become of the fragment is the enigma.
7 1 Symphonia brevis for Piano (1973; 120 pp.) KSS: [Symbol: circle with a cross, refering to the sketch forming no. 5] “Turandot diceva ‘l’enigmi sono tre’ [recte gli enigmi] / Ma io dico l’enigme e [recte è] uno: cioè / questo enigme!!” {“Turandot said that there are three enigmas. But I say that there is one: i.e., this enigma!!”}

Part of a four-page unit comprising nos. 6-9.
8 1 Symphonia brevis for Piano (1973; 120 pp.) AH (one at the top of the page, the other at the bottom): “... the opening of Piano Symphony No. 5 (Symphonia Brevis) / ... not the REAL ‘Quaere’ (let alone ‘Quare’[!]) but the meaning of same, nevertheless, in the context in which it was sent...”

The music, which is preceded by a symbol consisting of a circle with a cross (see no. 7) consists of the first two bars of the opening “Andante” (using the indication “Abbastanza libero” instead). It is followed by “Quare [sic] reliqua hujus materiae / inter secretiora”, a reference to “Quaere reliqua hujus materiei inter secretiora” (1940; 16 pp.). Sorabji is thus instructing Hinton to “seek the rest of this matter among the things that are more secret”.

Part of a four-page unit comprising nos. 6-9.
9 1 Symphonia brevis for Piano (1973; 120 pp.) AH: “Outline of opening of Piano Symphony No. 5 (Symphonia Brevis)”

The music shows a preliminary version of the first bar of the work, and the beginning and end of the top line have “A - lis - tair ... A.H.” underlaid, thus revealing the dedicatee’s name to be a soggetto cavato. Underneath is a line marked “Tentative bass”, here in octaves rather than in single notes (the top notes of the octaves are replaced with a counterpoint in the actual work).

Part of a four-page unit comprising nos. 6-9.
10 1 Symphonia brevis for Piano (1973; 120 pp.) KSS: “NO COMMENT / FROM ME” {written in large strokes, covering most of the sketch}

The music shows p. 1 of the work, with melodic ideas numbered from 1 to 11. Written upside down in the upper-right corner is the instruction “Cut along here”.
11 1 Symphonia brevis for Piano (1973; 120 pp.) KSS: “NO COMMENT / FROM ME” {written in large strokes, covering most of the sketch}

The music shows p. 2 of the work, with melodic ideas numbered from 12 to 17.
12 1 Symphonia brevis for Piano (1973; 120 pp.) KSS: “NO COMMENT / FROM ME” {written in large strokes, covering most of the sketch}

The music, which starts disintegrating in the second bar, shows the beginning of p. 3 of the work, with melodic ideas numbered from 18 to 21. The music continues with the beginning of the second page of the “Adagio” (p. 42) and an ostinato in octaves on C sharp, probably a reference to the ostinato of the “Coda epilogo” (p. 110; see also p. 119/2-3).
13 1 Symphonia brevis for Piano (1973; 120 pp.) KSS: “NO COMMENT” {written in large strokes, covering most of the sketch}

The music consists of five passages:
  • A-H motive in the bass with chords in the two top staves {as yet unidentified}
  • Motive starting with an ascending sixth {as yet unidentified}
  • First fugue subject, marked “Fugue”, in augmentation compared with the final version (p. 100)
  • Three related chromatic lines of five, six, and seven notes, in octaves {as yet unidentified}
  • Chromatic line in octaves (p. 94/1/1)
  • Three-note melodic line looking like the continuation of the line in the previous item, with inner voices mostly in thirds that were not carried into the final work.
In the lower-right corner, written upside down, one finds an ascending seven-note run in semiquavers that is related to the swift gestures found in the “Preludio quasi toccata” and “Nexus”, where it cannot be found specifically.
14 3 Symphonia brevis for Piano (1973; 120 pp.) KSS: “NO COMMENT / FROM ME THAT IS” {written in large strokes, covering most of the sketch}

AH: “See p. 100 of Piano Symphony No. 5 (Symphonia Brevis)”

The music, which is marked “Nexus. Fugue”, shows the four forms of the subject of the first fugue (“Rectus”, “Inversus”, “Cancrizans”, “Cancrizans inversus”). Each system is preceded by a large “X” in the margin. The letters S, A, T, B follow in a column at the end of each form; they are crossed out, meaning that they have been used. The four forms are followed by three countersubjects (“C.S. 1”, “C.S. 2”, “C.S. 3”) found between p. 100/1/5 and p. 100/3/3.
15 3 Symphonia brevis for Piano (1973; 120 pp.) KSS: “NO COMMENT / FROM ME THAT IS” {written in large strokes, covering most of the sketch}

Written on a sheet containing the names of various percussion instruments plus piano (four staves) and strings used in Opusculum clavisymphonicum vel claviorchestrale (1973-75; 334 pp.), with a single crotchet beat of music (strings only) {as yet unidentified} and marked (in faint ink) “Symphonia Brevis / Completed Part”, one finds the four forms of the subject of the second fugue, each of which is followed by four strokes indicating that they have been used.
16 2 Symphonia brevis for Piano (1973; 120 pp.) KSS: “Final Cadence of Symphonia Brevis”

AH: “scribbled on the obverse of title (dedication page for Sutras (Frammenti Aforistici) — 1962 —”

The music shows a preliminary version of the final cadence (p. 120/2); the same passage as in no. 19. This one has a low C sharp octave for the Bösendorfer keyboard. The passage is followed by an experiment with the A-B (= H) final motive, which stands for Alistair Hinton, here with added notes; the passage is crossed out. Finally, there is a key signature of three sharps that stands by itself, without any music following it.
17 1 Symphonia brevis for Piano (1973; 120 pp.) KSS: “Final Closing Cadence (when it arrives) / of Symphonia Brevis. / [Ornamental line] / Kaikhusru [an arrow directs to:] Older Iránian spelling: rather nice, don’t you think?”

This sketch forms a pair with no. 18.
18 1 Symphonia brevis for Piano (1973; 120 pp.) KSS: “Closing cadenza of / Symphonia Brevis (your S.B.)” {all the text in underlined, and “your” has double underlining}

AH: “sent by the composer on 13.9.73”

The music shows the final bar of the work, where the last two notes are identified as “(A)” and “(H)”, which stand for the dedicatee, Alistair Hinton.

This sketch forms a pair with no. 17.
19 1 Opusculum clavisymphonicum vel claviorchestrale (1973-75; 334 pp.) The music is the same as in nos. 20 and 21, but without tempo and character indications and slurs. There are no markings whatsoever. This appears to have been the first draft.
20 2 Opusculum clavisymphonicum vel claviorchestrale (1973-75; 334 pp.) The music is the same as in nos. 19 and 21, but slurs and two pp indications are added at the beginning. Each of the five bars is identified with letters from a to e. The interpretive direction “Solenne e grave” was not carried into the finished score.

The rest of the page contains two short motives {as yet unidentified} and mathematical operations (264 + 72 = 336; 312; 312 + 34 + 336; the last page of the finished score is 334).

The ostinato used for the theme with 27 variations that forms var. 21 (p. 204) appears at the bottom of the page, and there is a scribble underneath (probably only as a way to wipe off excess ink).
21 1 Opusculum clavisymphonicum vel claviorchestrale (1973-75; 334 pp.) KSS: “Theme of Variations for Second Part of Opusculum Clavisymphonicum / based on the Gretchaninoff Creed” / N.B. You can keep this page. After all the work is for you as you know / K.

AH: “Sent 21.04.1974 / re Opusculum Clavisymphonicum”

The music shows the setting of the theme by Grechaninov (p. 97). The interpretive direction “Sonorità piena, dolce e morbida[,] senza rigore alcuna” was not carried into the finished score, but could become a candidate for an editorial addition.
22 2 Opusculum clavisymphonicum vel claviorchestrale (1973-75; 334 pp.) The music consists of two halves, one written in crotchets (crossed out), the other (mostly) in minims and semibreves, developing as chords supported by the notes A and B (= H), played in octaves in the bass, the name of the dedicatee, Alistair Hinton. This is a preliminary version of the work’s “Adagio” ending on pp. 333-34.
23 5 KSS: “A bit of dithering[:] doodling with the new pen!!!

AH: “DATED 14.01.1975 / 2 [recte 3] Aphoristic doodles (incomplete), Op. forty-eleven (whither golden cockadoodlery now???)” {See p. 15 for a related comment. The word “golden” produces a link with “Il gallo d’oro” da Rimsky-Korsakov: Variazioni frivole con una fuga anarchica, eretica e perversa (1978-79; 93 pp.).}

Sorabji appears to have written these fragments as a means of trying out his new pen. The music consists of: (1) a passage of twelve crotchet beats, (2) a melodic line that could be the beginning of a fugue subject, and (3) a passage of five crotchet beats. The composer’s name appears in full next to each of the passages, with the second followed by “u.s.w.” (und so weiter, i.e., “etc.”) {as yet unidentified}.
24 1 Sixth Symphony for Piano (Symphonia claviensis) (1975-76; 270 pp.) KSS: “Tentative opening of possible / Symphonia Maxima / for Piano”

AH: “SENT BY THE COMPOSER 20.02.1975 / (see Piano Symphony No. 6)”

The music shows the first phrase of the opening of the work, with the marking “ppp minaccioso, oscuro”.
25 1 Sixth Symphony for Piano (Symphonia claviensis) (1975-76; 270 pp.) KSS: “Tentative Opening / of / Symphonia Maxima / for Piano... ???”

AH: “see opening of Piano Symphony No. 6”

The music shows the same passage as in no. 22, with the marking “ppp oscuro, minaccioso” and a “pochiss.” indication added.
26 1 Sixth Symphony for Piano (Symphonia claviensis) (1975-76; 270 pp.) KSS: “(Per l’amico carissimo. A.H.) / Symphonia Magna / Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji / incipit September MCMLXXV”

AH: “(see opening of Piano Symphony No. 6)”

The music shows the first two systems of the work. There are three crossed out beats at the top of the page {as yet unidentified}.
27 4 Sixth Symphony for Piano (Symphonia claviensis) (1975-76; 270 pp.) KSS: “Aide Memoire [recte Aide-mémoire] of Motives for S.M.”

AH: “vide Piano Symphony No. 6”

The music consists of numbered passages, but the bottom part is clipped (and therefore not visible), but with the top of a circle containing a number visible; it is likely to have shown the passages that appear to be missing before passage no. 8, which appears in no. 26.
  • 1: First thematic unit at the beginning, but without the initial gesture in octaves
  • 2: Contents of the middle staff at p. 1/3/1-2 (see also p. 96/1/1-2)
28 4 Sixth Symphony for Piano (Symphonia claviensis) (1975-76; 270 pp.) AH: “(Aide Memoire [Piano Symphony No 6] continued)”

One staff in the middle of the page is clipped before another sketch, whose top staff is also clipped, as if two pieces of paper slightly overlapped on the copier’s window. The clipped part lets the words “Opening of {hardly legible words: Coda-Stretta}” show. “Coda” makes sense, but “Stretta” is obviously incorrect in the present context of a section marked “Quasi Adagio: Nostalgico”.

The music consists of seven passages, sometimes identified by numbers:
  • 8: {as yet unidentified}
  • 9: {as yet unidentified}
  • 10: Subject of the “Interludio fugato” on p. 12/1-2
  • 11: Right-hand part of p. 17/1 in the continuation of the “Intrecciata”
  • [12]: Melodic line in octaves on p. 31/1/2 in the continuation of the “Intrecciata”
  • —: Opening of the “Coda-Epilogo” on p. 258/2/1-2
  • —: Conclusion of the “Coda-Epilogo” on p. 270/2/1 (the music consists of two superimposed systems: the first one shows the passage referred to here, the second the next bar, in crotchets rather than minims, with an incomplete left-hand part)
29 2 Sixth Symphony for Piano (Symphonia claviensis) (1975-76; 270 pp.) KSS: “Opening of / Final / Movement”

AH: “— actually the opening of the third movement (of 7) from the second of Piano Symphony No. 6’s three parts”

The music shows the first system of p. 167.
30 2 Sixth Symphony for Piano (Symphonia claviensis) (1975-76; 270 pp.) KSS: “Motives of 1st Fugue”

AH: “(re Piano Symphony No. 6)”

The music shows a fugue subject whose first four notes match that on p. 228/1 and an “Ostinato”, which is the first system of p. 116 (each of the six bars is identified by both a circled number, from “1” to “6”, and a letter in parentheses, from “a” to “f”, placed underneath).
31 2 Sixth Symphony for Piano (Symphonia claviensis) (1975-76; 270 pp.) KSS: “Tentative scheme”

AH: “This was to be ‘Quasi Fuga E’, commencing p. 250, of Piano Symphony No. 6.”

The music shows two versions, the first of which is crossed out. What remains is the fugue subject of the fifth fugue (first three bars of p. 250), but without bar-lines and slurs.
32 2 Sixth Symphony for Piano (Symphonia claviensis) (1975-76; 270 pp.) KSS: “Final closing motive”

AH: “This becomes p. 95, 2nd system, Piano Symphony No. 6 (with some alterations) — at the close of the first movement.”

The music shows p. 95/2/1 of the work.
33 2 Sixth Symphony for Piano (Symphonia claviensis) (1975-76; 270 pp.) KSS: “Suggested subject for possible fugue in S.M.”

AH: “This ‘soggetto tentativo’ seems to have been especially ‘fuggitivo’, as in spite of the ‘A-H’ references in Piano Symphonies 5 & 6, it does not seem to appear in either....”

The music consists of a short melodic line written in the F clef and marked “Irato: irascibile”. It bears a resemblance to the subject of the first of the five fugues (p. 228/1): the first two notes are A and B (= H), standing for Alistair Hinton, the B flat followed by an augmented octave (rather than a major seventh), and a series of movements by thirds.
34 2 Sixth Symphony for Piano (Symphonia claviensis) (1975-76; 270 pp.) KSS: “Possible or impossible idea for a fugue subject in one of the MOVEMENTS of S.M. / for A. [i.e., Alistair Hinton] with love from K.”

AH: “It seems that this was not to be such — none of the fugue subjects in Piano Symphony No. 6 are this”

The music is the same as in no. 34, but with a ff marking, a crescendo hairpin, and accents added; the interpretative marking reads “Irascibile: irato”.
35 2 AH: “Doodling, perhaps? One knows not w(h)e(a)thercockadoodle or not... (one also knows not w(h)e(re) the cockadoodling may end...)” {The word “cock” produces a link with “Il gallo d’oro” da Rimsky-Korsakov: Variazioni frivole con una fuga anarchica, eretica e perversa (1978-79; 93 pp.). See p. 33 for a related remark.}

The short passage of music consists of chords in both hands, first five crotchet beats, then three minim beats. There is an “ossia” marking above the second part, referring to the staff above, where four- rather than three-note chords are used {as yet unidentified}.

Fragments

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Work Description and Comments
Work Description and Comments
Vocalise pour soprano fioriturata (1916; 3 pp.) The last chord is inserted in a letter (in French) to Philip Heseltine of 23 March 1916.
Concerto II pour piano et grand orchestre (1916-17; 49 pp.) A preliminary version of bars 3-5 of the piano part is included at the end of a letter to Philip Heseltine of 6 July 1916 (reproduced in SCC, 226). They are described as being in his “usual mood of ungovernable violence”.
“Futurist Impressions of the states of mind of Colleywobbles and Great Scott after a reading of the Epistle” At the end of a letter to Philip Heseltine of 27 August 1916 (reproduced in SCC, 228), Sorabji drew two homorous faces marked “C[illegible letters]” and “G.S.”, which refer to the writer on music Hugh Cope Colles (1879-1943) and the music critic Hugh Arthur Scott (1878-1951), with whom he had entered into a controversy about melody in The Musical Times.
Sonata III for Piano (1922; 75 pp.) The following inscription, found in Emily Edroff-Smith’s copy of Sonata III for Piano (1922; 75 pp.), consists of a humorous piano exercise consisting of one bar containing eight semiquavers with leaps of more than an octave and spanning some four octaves, to be played by either hand with a specific fingering. He added a curious drawing with the inscription “Charm to ward off devils” and an amusing text which, with reference first to the sonata and then to the aforementioned exercise, reads (quoted verbatim):

To darling Auntie Edroff
with K’s love / [8.2.25]
Thiss iss a pritty littel peece—play itt bye hart.
Good-nite.
Repeat till green in the face and black in the eyes (neighbours!)
in orl the kees—Practice also with tip of nose, left ear, and right foot toes
The exercise may also be profitably studied by standing on one’s head behind the piano and reaching over the top.
Last modified: 2021-05-21
© Marc-André Roberge 2021
Sorabji Resource Site (SRS)
Faculté de musique, Université Laval, Québec

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