Kaikhosru Sorabji


Born to a Parsee Indian father (a mining engineer) and a Spanish-Sicilian mother (an opera singer), Kaikhosru Sorabji was a composer of prolific output (completing over 100 pieces for piano and keyboard) and is best known for his epic composition Opus Clavicembalisticum for piano (1930), which has an approximate duration of four and a half hours. Despite having no formal training, he was also a pianist of some renown, performing in various European cities as well as Bombay but retreating from public performance as early as 1936, preferring to play to private gatherings of friends. Sorabji gave the first performance of Opus Clavicembalisticum himself, in Glasgow in 1930. Following a particularly poor subsequent performance, he stipulated that his music could only be played with his permission.

In addition, Sorabji was an established music critic, writing reviews, essays and letters on music for a range of publications. Indeed, his writing extended beyond music, covering topics such as economics, unemployment, racism and homosexuality. As a gay ‘Spanish-Sicilian’ Parsee living in early twentieth century Britain, his experience of discrimination no doubt propelled him to write about these issues. Interestingly, Rozina Visram describes his views on colonialism as ‘ambivalent’: ‘critical of British rule, he was equally scathing of Indian activities’ (p. 291).

Published works: 

Selected music:

In the Hothouse (1918)

Le jardin parfumé (1923)

Opus Clavicembalisticum (1930)

For a full list of works, see www.sorabji-archive.co.uk


Selected writing:

Around Music (London: Unicorn Press, 1932)

Mi Contra Fa: The Immoralisings of a Machiavellian Musician (London: Porcupine Press, 1947)

‘The Validity of the Aristocratic Principle’, in Art and Thought: A 70th Birthday Tribute to Dr Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy, ed. by K. Bharatha Iyer (London: Luzac & Co., 1947), pp. 214–18


Date of birth: 
14 Aug 1892

Hugh MacDiarmid

Contributions to periodicals: 

New Age

New English Weekly

Secondary works: 

Rapoport, P., Sorabji: A Critical Celebration (Aldershot: Scolar, 1992)

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto, 2002)

Warrack, John, ‘Sorabji, Kaikhosru Shapurji (1892–1988)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004) [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/55450]

Archive source: 

Correspondence and music mss, Sorabji Archive, Easton Dene, Bailbrook Lane, Bath

Online Sorabji archive: http://www.sorabji-archive.co.uk

Letters to Bernard Stevens, Add. MS 69025, British Library, St Pancras

Involved in events: 

First performance of Opus Clavicembalisticum (Glasgow, 1930)

City of birth: 
Chingford, Essex
Country of birth: 
Other names: 

Leon Dudley Sorabji

Date of death: 
15 Oct 1988
Tags for Making Britain: 
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