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Title: K.S. Sorabji on neglected works : counter-canon as cultural critique
Authors: McMenamin, Sean
Issue Date: 2016
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: The critical writings of K. S. Sorabji (1892-1988) reveal a preoccupation with neglected works and obscure composers, music and musicians generally rejected upon reception and subsequently denied canonic acceptance. Together these comprise Sorabji’s countercanon, a collection of probing alternatives to the standard repertoire of London’s interwar music culture and ‘the mass of English “critical” opinion’. To what extent is Sorabji’s curation of neglected composers and works an expression of his wilful contrarianism, of his attempt to ‘square the critics’ circle’? How might we otherwise begin to interpret his counter-canon as a means of cultural critique? This thesis considers both approaches as offering valid perspectives on Sorabji’s critical aesthetic. In the first instance, Sorabji’s attachment to the neglected is seen as a logical extension of his self-construction as persona ingratissima: we repeatedly witness his identification with other marginalised, outsider figures in music. In the second, the neglected work comes to function as a hermeneutic proxy whereby Sorabji interprets the neglect of any given work as a negative symptom of socio-cultural decline. Both instances highlight Sorabji’s critical eccentricity, his writing from a position ‘out of the centre’. From this peripheral position his views on such composers as Busoni, Reger, Medtner or Bernard van Dieren – all treated as case studies here – offer sympathetic insight to the historical reception of works which have proven difficult to assimilate into orthodox accounts of music in the early twentieth century. Considered as an isolated and yet coherent body of music sharing a number of similarities, Sorabji’s counter-canon of neglected works can be profitably figured in discussions surrounding ‘lingering romanticism’ (Watkins) and ‘ambivalent modernism’ (Frisch). As such, Sorabji’s writings offer not only a cultural critique of interwar music practices in London, but prompt a revisionist account of the English reception of latenineteenth- century romanticism and early-twentieth-century modernism.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of Arts and Cultures

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