Born: August 14, 1892; Chingford, England
Died: October 15, 1988; Winfrith Newburgh, Dorset
Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji was one of the most interesting figures among classical composers of the twentieth century. A fair amount of inaccurate information about his life and music has been written, largely because of his insistence on privacy and his reluctance to divulge information about himself. Sorabji was a prolific composer, turning out over 100 works, a good many of enormous length. Yet most of his compositions remain unpublished,Read more despite an upsurge of worldwide interest in them in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Sorabji was well cared for in his childhood and teens, and his finances throughout his adult life were fixed and fully adequate to support him and his various pursuits. As a child, Sorabji showed talent on the piano and his music and general education were privately arranged by his family. His father was a Parsi and his mother is believed to have been of Spanish-Sicilian descent. Sorabji's resentment of English culture caused him to discard his own name, or most of it -- he was born Leon Dudley Sorabji -- in favor of the Indian names by which he became known. By 1914, he began to compose his first works. Largely self-taught and by then a brilliant pianist, he found modern music of great interest, but was attracted to the works of then-more obscure figures such as Busoni (the composer he admired most), Mahler, Schoenberg, Reger, Godowsky, and a few others. But he attached his art to no particular trend, rejecting serial composition, neo-Classicism, and the later movements in electronic and aleatoric music. After World War I, he became a music critic writing for, among other publications, the New English Weekly and New Age. In 1929-1930, he wrote what would, a half century hence, become one of his better-known piano compositions, Opus Clavicembalisticum. It has a duration of well over four hours, but is still not his longest keyboard work: Sonata V (1934-1935) and Sequentia cyclica (1948-1949), among others, are even longer. Sorabji continued to compose and give infrequent concerts in the 1930s, gradually cultivating a disdain for audiences, however, and for public consumption of his music in general. By 1937, Sorabji had decided to give up public concerts altogether, though he did continue appearing in private performances. The following year, the rights to the publication of the few works of his to reach print in the postwar years were assumed by Oxford University Press. While this was good news, it was largely negated because the eccentric Sorabji had forbidden public performance of his music without his permission. Thus, little of his music would be heard over the next four decades. But Sorabji was unfazed and continued to write music, apparently unconcerned it might never be heard. True, he did play it in private concerts, but these were relatively few in number. Sorabji retired from music criticism in 1945 and largely focused on composition thereafter. It was not until 1976 that he sanctioned a major public performance of his music, that from pianist Yonty Solomon. Others followed, some from major pianists such as John Ogdon, and much later on, Marc-André Hamelin. Even a few recordings appeared in the latter twentieth century. Sorabji died at the age of 96, leaving most of his compositions in manuscript form. The bulk are for piano (or piano and orchestra), some are vocal/choral (a few with orchestra), and a handful for organ. Read less
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