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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Kaikhosru Sorabji’s critical writings on British music in The New Age (1924-1934) Bhimani, Nazlin


This thesis examines the music criticism of Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji (1892- ), a well known composer and music critic active in England from the early 1920s to the late 1940s. Although many authors have referred to Sorabji's music and criticism, neither has been treated in a substantive manner. The present study focuses on Sorabji's contributions to The New Age, a weekly journal, and particularly on his articles therein dealing with contemporary British composers. It is of interest that Sorabji's criticism deals with a vibrant period of music history, known as the English Renaissance. An examination of Sorabji's writings, published articles and private correspondence reveals him to be a highly complex personality. His marginal position in English society, based partly on his racial background and his negative views of the British, led him to view the musical scene from a perspective differing from that of other critics. Not fully admitted into the inner circles of the musical establishment, Sorabji surrounded himself with a small, elite group of friends and admirers, which included well known composers and literary figures such as Bernard van Dieren, Peter Warlock, William Walton, John Ireland, Sacheverall Sitwell, Hugh McDiarmid and Cecil Gray. It is within this context that Sorabji redefined the role of the music critic and criticism to suit his personal values and style which were much influenced by his involvement in the mystical tradition of Tantric Hinduism. A detailed discussion of Sorabji's writings on the British composers Delius, Elgar, Bax, Vaughan Williams, Hoist, Ireland, van Dieren, Walton, Lambert, Smyth, Berners, Bush, Warlock, Howells, Bliss, Boughton, Scott, Goossens and Britten reveals that the critic's musical affinities were conservative throughout his career as music critic for The New Age. An analysis of these writings shows a clear-cut pattern of likes and dislikes. Sorabji praised highly the musical styles that appealed to him and wrote in a harsh and negative manner about music that he found distasteful. While this emotionalism tainted many of his reviews, it also encouraged the support of those who shared his opinions. Nonetheless, Sorabji's use of harsh and blunt language often turned the tide of public opinion against him. Yet, it is this particular style, which can sometimes be humourous and racy and other times harsh to the point of cruelty, that distinguishes Sorabji writings from the mainstream of music criticism. An appendix lists Sorabji's writings in The New Age during the period 1915 to 1934.

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