Item of the month: Autograph Manuscript of ‘Fragment for Harold Rutland’ by Sorabji

IMG_0539March’s item of the month is the autograph manuscripts of Fragment for Harold Rutland by Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji (1892-1988). Sorabji was a composer, pianist and music critic best known for his enormously long and complex piano works such as Opus Clavicembalisticum (1929-30), which lasts over four hours. The Fragment for Harold Rutland, however, is his shortest piano work and exists in three versions – 1926, 1928 & 1937. On display now are the autograph manuscripts for the 1926 & 1928 versions of the piece.

Sorabji was, in many ways, an outsider. Being born in England in 1892, his homosexuality and Parsi-heritage made him so, as did his self-described ‘mania for privacy’, his many anti-establishment views, and his private musical training. His financial independence also meant that he could ignore any requirements for his music or writing to provide him with an income.

It was in the 1920s that he began to distance his music from ordinary listeners and performers and many of the qualities that are instantly apparent in the Fragment came to the fore. In his piano music he used three or four staves, and sometimes up to seven. His compositions became much more intricately detailed, more fluid in rhythm and a-symmetrical in phrasing, used highly complex counterpoint and harmony, and made great demands of virtuosity and stamina as his works extended to often extraordinary lengths.[1]

Sorabji has written on the cover ‘Harold’s copy – bless his heart and fingers!’

Harold Rutland joined Trinity College of Music in 1957 as a lecturer and examiner, and is also author of the book Trinity College of Music: The First Hundred Years. (783.07 RUT). He was a staunch champion of Sorabji’s music, describing him as ‘one of the very few I would unhesitatingly describe as a genius[…] I will only add that I have always felt honoured by your friendship, and not a little unworthy of it; indeterminate dabbler that I am.’[2]

It was Rutland that gave the first performance of the work at Aeolian Hall in London on 12 October 1927. The occasion was later described by Eric Blom from the Manchester Guardian as…

received with a mixture of derision, indignation, and bewilderment that was perfectly understandable and probably flattering to the composer. It is music that simply will not fit in with any European standards, but neither does it belong to the Orient, which hugs its artistic conventions much more closely than the West. Exotic it certainly is, but its outlandishness is of the spirit and has nothing to do with any terrestrial homesickness. The composer is simply a seeker after an idiom of his own, and one knows from rare hearings of one or two of his works that he is passionately sincere in his quest. It is due to this absolute earnestness that at the second hearing the ‘fragment’ already seemed much clearer than at the first. Even those who intensely dislike this music should thus in the end come at least to respect its fearless attitude.[3]

In addition to the fragment, Sorabji dedicated to Rutland two other piano works: Un nido di scatole (1954) and the Fourth Symphony for Piano Alone (1962-64). The Jerwood Library also has the handwritten dedication to the latter from Sorabji to Rutland saying:

To Harold Rutland, whose independence of mind, admirable freedom from spiritual and moral besotment by contemporary fashions of musical haberdashery, deserves all the affection and respect of his friends among whom I rejoice to subscribe myself. K.S.S


[1] Paul Rapoport and Marc-André Roberge. “Sorabji, Kaikhosru Shapurji.” Grove Music Online.Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 29, 2016,http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/26247.

[2] Letter from Harold Rutland to Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji, dated London, 24 January 1954.

[3] Blom, Eric, ‘London Recitals’, The Manchester Guardian, 13 October 1927: 6

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