Sorabji Resource Site (SRS)

Musical and Literary Sources (with Links to Online Versions)

This page lists the musical and literary sources that have inspired some of Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji’s works, usually those with a descriptive or evocative title. In some cases references are given not to explain a title but to clarify sources of inspiration or for quotations found within the works themselves. Several titles incorporate the name of a dedicatee, in which case only a brief note is given (further biographical details are given elsewhere). Although the list may seem extensive, only works for which there are specific sources are included.

See the pages on soggetti cavati and the poets set by Sorabji; see also the page on related works by other composers for a list of works bearing a relationship with those by Sorabji, either before or after his contribution.

Full names (with years of birth and death) and titles of musical and literary works (with opus or catalogue numbers and years) are given throughout. Bibliographical references to sources are given where appropriate.

A bullet () indicates the editions that are likely (or known) to have been used by Sorabji. In the case of vocal works, there is always the possibility that he may have known the texts from individual editions or anthologies rather than from complete editions.

Links to online versions of literary texts on stable sites such as Gallica (for the many songs based on French texts, for which original editions are given whenever possible), Project Gutenberg, or Internet Archive are provided whenever possible. Direct links to public domain scores available on IMSLP — Petrucci Music Library are provided. In the case of works that are often offered in several parts, such as operas, the link is to the specific part. Some of the links on this page (marked with a PDF icon) may take a long time to load because they point to large files. As the scores may not be in the public domain in all countries, the user must comply with the regulations of the relevant country.

The works are divided into four categories, corresponding to as many important periods in Sorabji’s compositional career.

  • 1914-1918 (early works)
  • 1919-1936 (from the meeting with Busoni to the end of his public career)
  • 1937-1972 (from the beginning of his life as a recluse to the hiatus in his compositional career)
  • 1973-1988 (from his meeting with Alistair Hinton, when he resumed composition, to his death)


Transcription of “In a Summer Garden” (1914; 0 p.): Frederick Delius (1862-1934), In a Summer Garden (1908).

The Poplars (1915; 3 pp.): Jovan Dučić (1871-1943), “Jablanovi”, trans. as “The Poplars” by Paul Selver (1888-1970) in Paul Selver, An Anthology of Modern Slavonic Literature in Prose and Verse (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner; New York: E. P. Dutton, 1919), 287.

Chrysilla (1915; 4 pp.): Henri de Régnier (1864-1936), from Les médailles d’argile: Poèmes (Paris: Société du Mercure de France, 1900), 38 (15th of 21 poems in section “Médailles votives” from part “Les médailles d’argile”).

Roses du soir (1915; 4 pp.): Pierre Louÿs (1870-1925), “Roses dans la nuit”, from Les chansons de Bilitis. Traduites du grec par Pierre Louÿs, 10th ed. (Paris: Société du Mercure de France, 1898), 89 (33rd of 46 poems in section “Bucoliques en Pamphylie”; this edition has another title page reading Les Chansons [de] Bilitis: Roman lyrique). Sorabji misread Louÿs’s title.

L’heure exquise (1916; 2 pp.): Paul Verlaine (1846-96), La bonne chanson (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre, 1870), 11-12 (untitled, 6th of 21 poems; initial and final lines: “La lune blanche”, “C’est l’heure exquise”).

Apparition (1916; 5 pp.): Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-98), “Apparition” (1862), in Les poésies de Stéphane Mallarmé photolithographiées du manuscrit définitif (Paris: Éditions de la Revue Indépendante, 1887), fol. 6r. See also Les poésies de Stéphane Mallarmé (Bruxelles: Edmond Deman, 1899). The poem was first published in the political and literary weekly Lutèce for 24-30 November 1883.

Hymne à Aphrodite (1916; 5 pp.): Laurent Tailhade (1854-1919), “Hymne à Aphrodite”, in Le jardin des rêves: Poésies (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre, 1880), 143-45 (7th of 28 poems in section “Poèmes et bas-reliefs”).

L’étang (1917; 2 pp.): Maurice Rollinat (1846-1903), from Les névroses (Paris: G. Charpentier, 1883), 326 (36th of 45 poems in section “Les spectres”).


I Was Not Sorrowful—​Poem for Voice and Piano [Spleen] (between 1917 and 1919; 3 pp.): Ernest Christopher Dowson (1867-1900), “Spleen”, in The Poems of Ernest Dowson, with a memoir by Arthur Symons, four illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley and a portrait by William Rothenstein (London and New York: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1905), 33. Another edition: The Complete Poems of Ernest Dowson, with illustrations by Elinore Blaisdell (New York: The Medusa Head, 1928), 25.

Le mauvais jardinier (1919; 1 p.): Iwan Gilkin (1858-1924), from La nuit, Collection des poètes français de l’étranger (Paris: Librairie Fischbacher, 1897), 48.

Trois fêtes galantes de Verlaine (ca. 1919; 11 pp.): Paul Verlaine (1846-96), Fêtes galantes (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre, 1869): “L’allée”, 7-8 (4th of 22 poems), “À la promenade”, 9-10 (5th of 22 poems), “Dans la grotte”, 11-12 (6th of 22 poems).

Trois poèmes pour chant et piano (1918, 1919; 9 pp.)

Music to “The Rider by Night” (1919; 54 pp.): Robert Malise Bowyer Nichols (1893-1944), The Rider by Night (1919), published for the first time from the manuscript held by the British Library as part of my edition of the work (Bath: Sorabji Archive, 2008), 50-65.

Arabesque (1920; 2 pp.): The author is identified as Shamsuʾd-Dīn Ibrāhīm Mīrzā. Both the name and the source remain unknown, despite more than twenty years of research.

Three Pastiches for Piano (1922; 17 pp.)

Le jardin parfumé—​Poem for Piano Solo (1923; 16 pp.): Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Nafzawi (sixteenth century), Le jardin parfumé du Cheikh Nefzaoui: manuel d’érotologie arabe (Paris: Bibliothèque des curieux, 1912, 1922; Paris: Minerve, 1991). Other editions: The Perfumed Garden for the Soul’s Delectation, translated from the Arabic of the Shaykh Nafzawi (XV Saec.), vol. 1 (Paris and Benares: The Kamashastra Society, 1907); The Perfumed Garden of Shaykh Nefzawi, trans. Richard Burton, ed. Alan Hull Watson (New York: Berkley, 1978).

Rapsodie espagnole de Maurice Ravel—​Transcription de concert pour piano (first version, 1923; 16 pp.): Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), Rapsodie espagnole (1907).

Cinque sonetti di Michelagniolo Buonarroti (1923; 40 pp.): Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), sonnets to Tommaso Cavalieri (written between 1531 and 1547), in •Die Dichtungen des Michelagniolo Buonarroti, herausgegeben und mit kritischem Apparate versehen von Carl Frey (Berlin: G. Grote, 1897; repr. ed., Berlin and New York: Walther de Gruyter, 1964), nos. XLV, LXXV, LXXVI, LXIV, L (pp. 34, 79, 80, 53, 39).

Concerto per pianoforte e piccola orchestra, “Simorg-Anka” [no. 7] (1924; 100 pp.): The simorgh, or simurgh, is a fabulous bird found in Iranian art and literature. It is also referred to in Gustave Flaubert (1821-80), Œuvres complètes de Gustave Flaubert (Paris: Club de l’Honnête Homme, 1973), vol. 9, La première et la deuxième tentation de saint Antoine, 1849 et 1956, 196-97 (1849), 375-76 (1856).

Variazioni e fuga triplice sopra “Dies irae” per pianoforte (1923-26; 201 pp.): Thomas of Celano (died ca. 1250), Dies irae (medieval sequence).

Fragment: Prelude and Fugue on FxAxx DAxEx (1926; 3 pp.): The person hidden in the title is Frank G. Davey, a friend of Sorabji about whom nothing is known.

Trois poèmes du “Gulistān” de Saʿdī (1926, rev. 1930; 16 pp.): Abū Abdiʾllah Mušarrifuʾd-Dīn Ibn Muṣliḥud-Dīn Saʿdī (ca. 1200-ca. 1291), Le jardin des roses [The Rose Garden] (1258): “La lampe”, “La jalousie”, “La fidélité”, •translated from the Persian by Franz Toussaint (1879-1955) (Paris: Arthème Fayard, 1923). The three poems selected by Sorabji are the second, fourth, and ninth stories.

L’irrémédiable (1927; 8 pp.): Charles Baudelaire (1821-67), from Les fleurs du mal, 2nd ed. (Paris: Poulet-Malassis et De Broise, 1861), 188-90 (84th of 85 poems in section “Spleen et idéal”).

Toccata [no. 1] for Piano (1928; 66 pp.): The score reproduces as motto the third of the five paragraphs from the extended epigraph, titled “Sine me, Liber.....”, from John Payne (1842-1916), The Poetical Works of John Payne, 2 vols. (London: The Villon Society, 1902; repr. ed., New York: AMS Press, 1970), 2 (Narrative Poems): vii-viii.

Nocturne, “Jāmī” (1928; 28 pp.)

Sonata IV for Piano (1928-29; 111 pp.): The tempo indication of the second movement is followed by “Count Tasca’s Garden”, a reference to the Villa Tasca (built between 1555 and 1559, with the gardens redesigned in 1855), which is located on the outskirts of Palermo, Sicily, on the road leading to the Norman cathedral in Monreale, and would later serve as inspiration for Villa Tasca: Mezzogiorno siciliano—​Evocazione nostalgica e memoria tanta cara e preziosa del giardino meraviglioso, splendido, tropicale (1979-80; 47 pp.).

Toccatinetta sopra C.G.F. (1929; 8 pp.): The letters of the soggetto cavato correspond to Clinton Gray-Fisk (1904-61), an American critic and writer who made his career in England.

Music for “Faust” (ca. 1930; 0 p.): Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), Faust: der Tragödie erster Teil (1808); Faust: der Tragödie zweiter Teil (1832).

Opus clavicembalisticum (1929-30; 253 pp.): Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), Fantasia contrappuntistica, BV 256 (1910). From the “Shortform-Analysis of Opus Clavicembalisticum”: “This work is admittedly an essay in the form adumbrated by the immortal BUSONI in his great FANTASIA CONTRAPPUNTISTICA which, with the Hammerklavier Sonata and the REGER Variations on a theme of BACH[,] are the three supreme works for the piano.”

Pasticcio capriccioso sopra l’op. 64, no 1 del Chopin (1933; 8 pp.): Frédéric Chopin (1810-49), Waltz in D-flat Major, op. 64, no. 1 (1846-47).

Toccata seconda per pianoforte (1933-34; 111 pp.): Page 28 of the manuscript contains three references marked:

Sonata V (Opus archimagicum) (1934-35; 336 pp.): The subtitle and the titles of the first two parts (“Arcana minora” and “Arcana majora”) are references to the Tarot. The “Archimagus” used for the third section may refer to the title of the High Priest of the Persian Magi or simply mean “great magician”.


Fragment Written for Harold Rutland (1926, 1928, 1937; 2 pp.): The piece was written for Harold Rutland (1900-1977), a lecturer and examiner at Trinity College of Music and also an editor of The Musical Times.

Tāntrik Symphony for Piano Alone (1938-39; 284 pp.): The titles of the seven movements refer to bodily centres and functions in tantric and shaktic yoga, with translitterations from Arthur Avalon (1865-1936, pseud. of Sir John George Woodroffe), Tantra of the Great Liberation (Mahnirvna Tantra), translated from the Sanskrit, with introduction and commentary, by Arthur Avalon (London: Luzac, 1913; repr. New York: Dover Publications, 1972). For the titles of the movements, see page Works > Titles of Works with Diacritics.

Transcription in the Light of Harpsichord Technique for the Modern Piano of the Chromatic Fantasia of J. S. Bach, Followed by a Fugue (1940; 15 pp.)

“Quaere reliqua hujus materiei inter secretiora” (1940; 16 pp.): Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936), “Count Magnus”, repr. in The Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. James (London: Edward Arnold; New York: Longmans, Green, 1931), 99-119.

“Gulistān”—​Nocturne for Piano (1940; 28 pp.): Abū Abdiʾllah Mušarrifuʾd-Dīn Ibn Muṣliḥud-Dīn Saʿdī (ca. 1200-ca. 1291), The Gulistan, or Rose Garden of Sa’di, translated by Edward Rehatsek, edited with a preface by W. G. Archer, introduction by G. M. Wickens (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1964). A copy of this edition was part of Sorabji’s library, although an earlier one was used; it bears an inscription to Alistair Hinton, dated 11 November 1974.

St. Bertrand de Comminges: “He was laughing in the tower” (1941; 16 pp.): Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936), “Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book” (1894), in The National Review (London) 25, no. 145 (March 1895): 132-41, as “The Scrap-Book of Canon Alberic”, repr. in The Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. James (London: Edward Arnold; New York: Longmans, Green, 1931), 1-19.

Trois poèmes (1941; 13 pp.)

Études transcendantes (100) (1940-44; 456 pp.)

Rapsodie espagnole de Maurice Ravel—​Transcription de concert pour piano (second version, 1945; 26 pp.): Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), Rapsodie espagnole (1907).

Transcription of the Prelude in E-flat by Bach (1945; 4 pp.): Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), French Suite in E-flat Major, BWV 815a: “Prelude” (doubtful authenticity), in •Joh. Seb. Bach, Klavierwerke. Unter Mitwirkung von Egon Petri und Bruno Mugellini herausgegeben von Ferruccio Busoni, 25 vols. (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1894-1923), vol. 6, Französische Suiten, ed. Egon Petri (1918; repr. Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1989), 30-31. Modern edition: Johann Sebastian Bach, Neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke, ed. Johann-Sebastian-Bach-Institut Göttingen and Bach-Archiv Leipzig (Kassel, Basel, and London: Bärenreiter, 1954-), Series V, Klavier- und Lautenwerke, vol. 8, Die sechs Französischen Suiten, BWV 812-817, 814a, 815a; Zwei Suiten a-Moll und Es-Dur, BWV 818, 819, 818a, 819a, ed. Alfred Dürr (1980), 176-77.

Schlussszene aus “Salome” von Richard Strauss—​Konzertmäßige Übertragung für Klavier zu zwei Händen (1947; 25 pp.): Richard Strauss (1864-1949), Salome, op. 54 (1903-5): “Ah! Du wolltest mich nicht deinen Mund küssen lassen, Jochanaan!” (1314-627).

Sequentia cyclica super “Dies irae” ex Missa pro defunctis (1948-49; 335 pp.): Thomas of Celano (d. ca. 1250), Dies irae (medieval sequence).

Symphony [no. 2], “Jāmī”, for Large Orchestra, Wordless Chorus, and Baritone Solo (1942-51; 826 pp.)

Un nido di scatole sopra il nome del grande e buon amico Harold Rutland (1954; 26 pp.): Harold Rutland (1900-1977), a lecturer and examiner at Trinity College of Music and also an editor of The Musical Times.

Passeggiata veneziana sopra la Barcarola di Offenbach (1955-56; 24 pp.): Jacques Offenbach (1819-80), Les contes d’Hoffmann (1881): “Barcarolle” (“Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour”) (act 2, no. 13; Giuletta and Niklausse, with chorus; Choudens score). The music is also heard in act 2, no. 16bis (end of septett), act 2, no. 17 (finale; Giuletta and chorus), and act 3, no. 24 (Intermezzo, orchestra only).

Symphonic Variations for Piano (1935-37; 484 pp.): Var. 56 alludes to the finale of Frédéric Chopin (1810-49), Sonata no. 2 in B-flat Minor, op. 35 (1839).

Rosario d’arabeschi (1956; 45 pp.): The title, the origin of which is unknown, was later used by the dedicatee, Sir Sacheverell Sitwell (1897-1988), “Rosario d’arabeschi: Poems and Rose Portraits [I. Belle Isis: Ballad of a Rose (that opens like a dancer’s tutu); II. O Rose with Two Hearts]”, in Poems of Our Time, 1900-1960, ed. Richard Church and Mildred Bozman, modern supplement chosen by Dame Edith Sitwell, Everyman’s Library, no. 981 (London: J. M. Dent & Sons; New York: E. P. Dutton, 1959), 322-25; later published as part of Rosario d’arabeschi (Brackley: Smart (Printers), 1972?).

Third Symphony for Piano Solo (1959-60; 144 pp.): The dedication to George Richards includes the words “sempre con fé sincera” from Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), Tosca (1900): “Vissi d’arte” (act 2).

Suggested Bell-Chorale for St. Luke’s Carillon (1961; 1 p.): The piece was written for Norman P. Gentieu, who served as bell-ringer at St. Luke’s Church in Germantown, Pennsylvania, a city now incorporated into Philadelphia, located North-Northwest of the city centre.

Fantasiettina sul nome illustre dell’egregio poeta Christopher Grieve ossia Hugh M’Diarmid (1961; 10 pp.): The work was written for the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1998), whose actual name was Christopher Murray Grieve.

Frammenti aforistici (Sutras) (104) (1962-64; 37 pp.): Sutras are precepts summarizing Vedic teachings; also a collection of these precepts; a discourse of the Buddha. See Swami Vireswarananda, Brahma-Sutras, with Text, Word-for-Word Translation, English Rendering, Comments and Index, 4th ed. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1970 [orig. ed., 1936]).

Toccata quarta (1964-67; 149 pp.): The fifth movement is marked “Intermezzo secondo. Of a neophyte and how the Black Art was revealed to him [actually “unto him by his Friend Asomuel (i.e., Insomnia)”], a reference to an illustration in pen and ink by Aubrey Beardsley (1872-98) for Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le morte d’Arthur, reproduced in James Mew, “The Black Art”, The Pall Mall Magazine 1, no. 1 (May 1893): 51-64 (Part I); 1, no. 2 (June 1893): 174-83 (Part II; this page for the image); 1/6 (October 1893): 820-32 (Part III).

Frammento cantato (1967; 1 p.): •Harold Morland (1908-99), My Seeking Spirit, Being Free Variations on Poems by Kalidasa [recte Kālidāsa], c. 500 A.D. (privately printed, 1966), 38 (out of 69 pp.), no. 8 of 90 items making up the section “The Cloud Messenger”.


Benedizione di San Francesco d’Assisi (1973; 2 pp.): San Francesco d’Assisi (1181 or 1182-1226), text of a blessing taken from Numbers 6: 24-26. See S. J. P. Van Dijk, “Saint Francis’ Blessing of Brother Leo”, Archivum franciscanum historicum 47 (1954): 199-201; “Bénédiction”, in Saint François d’Assise: documents, écrits et premières biographies, ed. Théophile Desbonnets and Damien Vorreux (Paris: Éditions franciscaines, 1968), 173; and “La ‘cartulata’ data a frate Leone; Le lodi di Di e la Benedizione al compagno prediletto”, in Gli scritti di San Francesco d’Assisi e “I fioretti”, ed. Augusto Vicinelli (n.p.: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1955), 206-10.

Variazione maliziosa e perversa sopra “La morte d’Åse” da Grieg (1974; 2 pp.): Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), incidental music to Peer Gynt (1876) by Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906). Peer Gynt: dramatische Dichtung von H. Ibsen, Musik von Edvard Grieg (Leipzig: C. F. Peters, n.d.), “Åses Død” (no. 12, act 3, pp. 146-47).

Opusculum clavisymphonicum vel claviorchestrale (1973-75; 334 pp.): The second movement consists of “Variazioni sopra il Credo in qualsiasi modo del Gretchaninoff”. Alexander Tikhonovich Gretchaninov (1864-1956), “Credo” from the Liturgy no. 2 of St. John Chrysostom, op. 29 (1902). Two contemporary separate editions of the Credo exist:

An edition of the complete work by Vladimir Morosan was published in 2007 by Musica Russica (San Diego, Calif.) under catalogue number Gr-DL2 (PDF file of the complete volume, with some pages of music omitted, and extensive samples from seven movements in separate files).

Two recordings exist of this rare work.

“Il gallo d’oro” da Rimsky-Korsakov: Variazioni frivole con una fuga anarchica, eretica e perversa (1978-79; 93 pp.): Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), Золотой петушок [Zolotoy petushok] (The Golden Cockerel) (1906-7), act 1 (bars 1-6, 376-80, 390-94, 480-84, 662-65, 732-36, 785-88, 901-4, 1045-51, 1123-25, 1139-41, 1158-61; epilogue (bars 30-36), in Polioe sobranie sočinenij (Moscow and Leningrad: Gosudarstvennoe muzykal’noe izdatel’stvo, 1946-70), 15 a/b/c (full score, 1950); 43 (vocal score, 1951).

Il tessuto d’arabeschi (1979; 32 pp.): The work was written in memory of Frederick Delius (1862-1934) and incorporates the musical letters of his name near the end.

Villa Tasca: Mezzogiorno siciliano—​Evocazione nostalgica e memoria tanta cara e preziosa del giardino meraviglioso, splendido, tropicale (1979-80; 47 pp.): Villa Tasca (built between 1555 and 1559, with the gardens redisgned in 1855) is located on Corso Calatafimi 446, on the outskirts of Palermo, Sicily, on the road leading to the Norman cathedral in Monreale {Google Maps}. The villa, which Sorabji visited on one of his trips to Sicily, also inspired the second movement of the Sonata IV for Piano (1928-29; 111 pp.).

Bars 160-65 seem to be a (very free) reference to a canzone entitled Amuri, amuri (known as the “Sicilian Cart Driver’s Song”) that Sorabji knew from an anthology of songs “harmonized, elaborated and interpreted” by Geni Sadero (1886-1961; pseudonym of Eugenia Scarpia) under the title Le più belle canzoni d’Italia (1921).

A 1936 recording by Blanche Marchesi (originally released on His Master’s Voice) is available on a disc entitled “The Marchesi School” (Symposium 1188, released in 1995); the track is also included on Prima Voce: Prima Voce Party (Nimbus 7839, released in 1995). Other historical recordings are:

Passeggiata variata sul nome del caro e gentile giovane amico Clive Spencer-Bentley (1981; 3 pp.): The dedicatee, Clive Spencer-Bentley, was then a teacher at a boy’s preparatory school in Surrey, Hampshire.

Passeggiata arlecchinesca sopra un frammento di Busoni (“Rondò arlecchinesco”) (1981-82; 16 pp.): Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), Rondò arlecchinesco, BV 266 (1915).

Due sutras sul nome dell’amico Alexis (1981, 1984; 2 pp.): The dedicatee, Robert William Procter (1945-2005), was nicknamed “Alexis” by his friend, the poet Harold Morland (1908-99). The name most probably refers to “fair Alexis”, the boy loved by the shepherd Corydon in the Latin poet Virgile’s “Eclogue II”, part of his Bucolics (42-39 B.C.). About the sutras, see the entry for the Frammenti aforistici (Sutras) (104) (1962-64; 37 pp.).

Last modified: 2024-03-29
© Marc-André Roberge 2024
Sorabji Resource Site (SRS)
Faculté de musique, Université Laval, Québec

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