1st Edition

Kaikhosru Sorabji's Letters to Philip Heseltine (Peter Warlock)

Edited By Brian Inglis, Barry Smith Copyright 2020
    184 Pages 24 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    184 Pages 24 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Two extraordinary personalities, and one remarkable friendship, are reflected in the unique corpus of letters from Anglo-Parsi composer-critic Kaikhosru Sorabji (1892-1988) to Philip Heseltine (Peter Warlock) (1894-1930): a fascinating primary source for the period 1913-1922 available in a complete scholarly edition for the first time. The volume also provides a new contextual, critical and interpretative framework, incorporating a myriad of perspectives: identities, social geographies, style construction, and mutual interests and influences. Pertinent period documents, including evidence of Heseltine’s reactions, enhance the sense of narrative and expand on aesthetic discussions. Through the letters’ entertaining and perceptive lens, Sorabji’s early life and compositions are vividly illuminated and Heseltine’s own intriguing life and work recontextualised. What emerges takes us beyond tropes of otherness and eccentricity to reveal a persona and a narrative with great relevance to modern-day debates on canonicity and identity, especially the nexus of ethnicity, queer identities and Western art music. Scholars, performers and admirers of early twentieth-century music in Britain, and beyond, will find this a valuable addition to the literature. The book will appeal to those studying or interested in early musical modernism and its reception; cultural life in London around and after the First World War; music, nationality and race; Commonwealth studies; and music and sexuality.

    Table of Contents

    List of illustrations

    Acknowledgements, credits, editorial and biographical notes

    Foreword by Judith Weir


    Kaikhosru Sorabji

    Philip Heseltine (Peter Warlock)

    Sorabji’s letters to Heseltine

    Organisation of materials

    Editorial practice


    Part I: Letters and documents October 1913–June 1914

    Part II: Letters and documents September 1914– June 1917

    Part III: Letters and documents 1920–1922/1929

    Appendix 1: Some reflections on modern music criticism [The Musical Times 54 (848) (1 October 1913)]

    Appendix 2: Sexual inversion [The Medical Times (October 1921)]

    Appendix 3a: Music [Weekly Westminster Gazette 2 (81) (18 August 1923)]

    Appendix 3b: Sorabji, Kaikhosru [A Dictionary of Modern Music & Musicians]

    Appendix 4: Music [The New Age 48 (15 January 1931)]




    Brian Inglis is Senior Lecturer in Music and BA Music Programme Leader, Department of Performing Arts, Middlesex University UK.

    Barry Smith is a former Organist and Master of the Choristers at St George’s Cathedral Cape Town and Associate Professor in the Faculty of Music at Cape Town University. He is President of the Peter Warlock Society.

     'Meticulously transcribed here by Barry Smith, the complete letters are lively and engaging, providing fascinating insights into both the early development of these two composer-critics and their socio-cultural and musical milieu. The Introduction by Brian Inglis is critically astute, effectively drawing on recent scholarship to bring the issue of identity (particularly race) to the fore in a nuanced framing of Sorabji and his work, while also perceptively considering questions of sexuality, influence, and stylistic development in relation to both composers.... this is a rich and fascinating volume - a welcome addition to the burgeoning field of research into British music in the early decades of the twentieth century. It will be valuable not only to students, scholars, and performers of Sorabji and his music, as well as those of Philip Heseltine, but also to scholars of twentieth-century British music studies, and, more broadly, to those studying music, identity and race, and those interested in music and sexuality. Highly recommended.'

    Nalini Ghuman - Fontes Artis Musicae

    “extensive editorial annotations and references which are all quite fascinating … provides a new contextual, critical and interpretative framework, incorporating many different perspectives. [Sorabji] comes across as extremely well read and full of knowledge of the very latest musical trends. His excitement in having found someone who shares his enthusiasms is palpable, but there is also sadness … This collection provides an invaluable insight into Sorabji and Warlock's early musical careers, but also a fascinating account of their wider socio-cultural world which is so very different to today’s new music world. In the course of the correspondence Sorabji begins composing and performing for the first time and it is thrilling to hear his thoughts on the works which began his long career. Works which seem to have arrived from nowhere but which formed the basis for much that followed. This is invaluable reading.”

    Paul JacksonBritish Music News

    “the two editors … do as much as possible to contextualise Sorabji’s letters in a number of ways … The [introductory] text, which is generously footnoted, is often thought provoking, and makes for very interesting reading. It provides a very adequate and perceptive background for what is to follow … We have to acknowledge and thank Barry Smith for his diligence and perseverance in transcribing what was often a barely legible text into something that is readily readable.”

    John MitchellPeter Warlock Society Newsletter

    “snippets from Heseltine’s correspondence with other confidantes ... [provide] fascinating insights into his changing perceptions of Sorabji … The volume also provides illuminating context to its narrative by interspersing the letters with excerpts from contemporary articles from various newspapers and periodicals … The editorial quality of the volume is high. The letters are accompanied with editorial footnotes that provide welcome explanations of many of the people and events in the letters, and the volume is appended by a comprehensive though not overburdened bibliography … this volume represents a fascinating and valuable contribution to the patchy scholarly literature on Sorabji, as well as providing broader context of musical life in Britain in the early twentieth century.”

    Philip Wheldon-RobinsonBritish Music Journal   

    “As the title suggests, the emphasis here is on Sorabji’s musings … to Heseltine, who is refracted through related correspondence and period publications. Far from having a jarring effect, this adds further colour and context, building a novel-like narrative (there is one stomach-churning moment) … Sorabji has long been cast as an eccentric outsider; these letters are a reminder that, in the early 20th century, for a gay Indian man who loved alternative contemporary music, living in isolation was a means of self preservation.”

    Claire JacksonBBC Music Magazine

    "This paperback is an object-lesson in how to present a correspondence when only one side of the exchange survives in the archive. Unfortunately, Sorabji failed to preserve the letters written to him by Philip Heseltine, so we only have his side of the correspondence, but one of the triumphs of this collection is that the letters are placed in context by a remarkably thorough scholarly infrastructure documenting Heseltine’s activities at the time and deducing what he might have contributed. Sorabji writes at some length and, despite his sometimes wayward views, it is a vivid and compelling picture of the musical life of their circle at the time."

    Delius SocietyJournal 170, Autumn 2021

    "copious endnotes provide enlightening detail on many matters, especially on the cast of characters populating Sorabji’s letters… the rewards for having penetrated, through this collection, the fantastical mind and world of Kaikhosru Sorabji are manifold. One hundred years on, his letters remain visionary, challenging, revealing – and hugely relevant to the big issues of our age."

    Brio – 59/2 (Autumn/Winter 2022)