An Airing

Last month the third movement of Piano Sonata No. 7 was broadcasted on Divine Art’s British Music Radio Programme.

The aim of this programme is “to explore the heritage of the musical culture of the British Isles and especially to promote discovery …”   On the same programme were part of Michael Finnissy’s Violin Concerto and the first movement of Christopher Wright’s Concertino.   I am informed that “more Craven will be featured in one of our future piano concert programmes”.


I am including Marbecks in my blog mainly for the fact that it is a chain of retailers in New Zealand.   This family business has been established since 1934 and, in their time, have sold wax cylinders and 78s, a consignment of which was shipped from England and reportedly “was sold in a day”.

The following is how they refer to and describe the Sonatas:-

Piano Sonatas 7, 8, 9
Mary Dullea (piano)

[ Metier / CD ]

Release Date: Friday 31 October 2014

Pre-order your copy NOW!

For many years Craven has exclusively focused his attention upon the development of the compositional and performance techniques associated with his Non-Prescriptive style of music which, in essence, seeks to realign the relationship between composer and performer.

On the rare occasions that his music has been performed live, it has been received with great appreciation by the audiences and artists involved. There is now a growing interest from both amateur and professional musicians and in academia with regard to the distinctiveness of the concept of his Non-Prescriptive music, and the associated techniques which include elements of aleatorism, optional phrasing, improvisation and open interpretation. None of these are in themselves new but they are here presented in a particular fashion which is Eric Craven’s own. The three Sonatas are written with varying degree of Prescription (and converse freedom) and in very different structures from the 7th Sonata, a quasi-classical “arch” structure, to the massive monolithic 8th. They are of the highest order throughout and masterworks of collaboration between composer and performer.

A sought-after interpreter of new music, Mary Dullea’s expansive repertoire covers the standard piano literature as well as an ever-increasing amount of 20th- and 21st- century compositions, many of which are dedicated to her. She has commissioned and premiered works from composers as varied as Michael Finnissy, Johannes Maria Staud, Michael Nyman, Donnacha Dennehy and Gerald Barry – notably with her piano trio, The Fidelio Trio and with violinist, Darragh Morgan. As well as the present album of Sonatas by Eric Craven, Mary recorded Craven’s suite ‘Set’ for piano for Metier and is becoming an enthusiastic advocate of his compositional technique.

The reviewer, John France, also commences his piece by explaining my Non-Prescriptive techniques notably adding that my Middle-Order Non-Prescriptive techniques “confuse the issue” he does not explain why.   He refers to and compares me favourably with the composer Kaikhosru Sorabji who was an English composer, music critic, pianist and writer.   He was one of the twentieth century’s most prolific piano composers.

I have listened to Sorabji and, short of  us both exhibiting similar mild eccentricities, I cannot hear that our music has much in common.   Would you, the reader, care to compare and comment on this point?

Unlike Bruce Reader, Mr. France does not undertake to “tease out the progress of these three sonatas” which he kindly describes as being “full of interest” and considers them to be “timeless works”.   Again, I am pleased to see that Mary is given lavish praise.

Towards the conclusion of his review Mr. France finds that the disc “raises a few issues”.   He is less than impressed by the liner notes.   You can read why by going to the complete review:-                          http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2014/Sep14/Craven_piano_MSV28544.htm

This month’s issue of the magazine includes a quite substantial review of the Sonatas by Bruce Reader.   His generous comments give deserved recognition to Scott’s “essential addition to this release” and, whether he is cognizant of this or not, acknowledgs the synergy that lies at the core of my Non-Prescriptive techniques, the necessary relationship which must be established between composer and performer”.

Three short extracts from his piece will demonstrate this:-

Sonata No. 7…..”is an enormously interesting work full of fine moments played brilliantly by Mary Dullea realising Craven’s ideas to remarkable effect”.

Sonata No. 8…….”the surges of melodic and fragmented staccato ideas ……. many intensely still quiet moments beautifully realised by this pianist”.

Sonata No. 9…… “This is a remarkably fine work played with great empathy and understanding”.

Mr. Reader structures his review by first explaining my Non-Prescriptive ideas and techniques and then proceeds to an analysis of  the three sonatas. For the complete review:-


Congleton is a town and civil parish that lies on the banks of the River Dane in Cheshire, 20 miles south of Manchester.   It boasts around 20 pubs and has a population of 26,000  –  a ratio of l:1300.

It also has its own Congleton Chronicle.   Established in 1893, it is one of a very few independent newspapers remaining in England.  Jeremy Condliffe requested and received a copy from Divine Art and has written a review, extracts of which appear as follows:

……….”Encouraged by Mary Dullea and Divine Art/Metier Records, the first album of his music SET for piano, performed by Dullea, came  out to good reviews. (Dullea has an impressive CV and is director of performance at the University of Sheffield and is also on the teaching staff of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama).”

……….” We can’t play the piano but CD2 of this, Sonata 8, is a 48-minute single movement and requires “phenomenal skill” to conquer, so pianoheads might  appreciate it. ……. We have no idea how he wrote compared with what’s on CD; presumably on another day, another pianist would play it slightly differently. The sleeve notes liken it to a raindrop running down a window; it’s not random, because gravity and other predictable forces apply, but it’s route is not prescribed either.”

………..”While the music is experimental, this game between composer and performer gives it a very human quality, which makes it more approachable than all this sounds.”

………….”It’s tuneful enough that people who like more conventional music will appreciate it, while its changes in time and discordance mean that it should appeal to lovers of the more avant garde, too.   We like interesting music, so it’s gone down well.”

For the complete review click on:   http://www.divineartrecords.com/CD/28544info.htm

msv 28544 cd imageERIC CRAVEN: PIANO SONATAS 7, 8 & 9


msv 28544 (2CD for price of 1)

Sample track and CD purchase available from Divine Art.

“...Craven deserves to be feted as one of the most individual and creative composers of the day and this recording should go at least some way to achieving that goal.”

An irresistibly attractive offer! Two for the price of one. Could have also offered 50% off retail price for senior citizens – Wednesdays only, of course.

Presented here, still pre-general release, is an image of the C.D. adorned with the fractal-sourced art-work by Peter Vodden. I am fascinated and somewhat amused by the hyperbole, the heightened rhetoric employed by the retailers in their attempts to catch the eye – and the ear – of potential customers. If you care to visit my website, eric craven composer, you will see what I mean. Other retailers use epithets such as “pioneer”, Mary is now elevated to the rarefied status of “firm/enthusiastic advocate” of my Non-Prescriptive techniques. Vapidity has no place in this fiercely competitive commercial forum.

And now, for the first time, an aside. Last year I had the honour to chauffeur Stephen Sutton, CEO of Divine Art, from Manchester Airport to the Anthony Burgess Foundation Centre in Manchester. The occasion was to mark the release of a C.D. of that composer by Divine Art. Manchester’s music glitterati were gathered. I was a stranger in their midst. A stranger who spent the afternoon rifling through a comprehensive library of the books of this remarkable author. I purchased several. I discovered Burgess, like me, was born in Harpurhey. I had found fame by association.

My first piano was purchased from a second-hand shop, and there were many, always to be found on a corner of a street, in Harpurhey. It came with its own distinctive memorable odour. Many of the springs were missing, hammers did not function, were broken, panels frequently fell from the instrument with alarming loud suddenness. I fashioned springs from copper wiring, replaced missing felt with material from my Mother’s dress-making cache. Crude joinery saw that the pedal mechanism worked after a fashion. On the whole it was better not to pedal. Tuning was never a consideration. To enliven my studies I placed paper, materials, drawing pins into the action and discovered a new world of sonic colour. No longer were scales, exercises and waltzes dull. At the age of 10 I was, unwittingly, a “firm/enthusiastic advocate” of Cage and his experimentation with unprepared pianos.

The reviews I have had and the comments I have received via my blog have, to date, been unbelievably generous. These mean so much. They lend me belief and motivation which carry me through those dark unproductive days – and there are many of them – as I struggle at the Music Factory. Some write to tell me of their delight in the progress of my nascent, inchoate life as a composer now appearing in the public domain. It is both a long journey and a short one. Short because it is only a few years ago that I was “discovered” by Divine Art – see the first of my blog. Long because I have been writing, performing and conducting music of many quite different genres most of my life. Conducting pantomime pit orchestras whilst a student at the RNCM. Conducting and arranging for an exceedingly loud 35- piece swing band for ten years. Playing keyboards at many of Manchester’s social clubs. Choral director. Teacher, exhausted.

The coming months will may bring some reviews as did the “Set”. My music has, to date, somehow managed to avoid receiving any excoriating criticism. Will this winning streak hold? I will let you know, good or bad.

It feels as though I have been waiting to script this entry to my blog for a very long time. It isn’t as though nothing has been happening during the seemingly endless, chill, wet winter. Scott McLaughlin has been steadily progressing his sleeve and programme notes and emailing me with queries and updates. Towards the beginning of the month I received a “nearly ready” draft which was almost immediately followed by a final draft. Yes!

Scott’s task has been demanding and complex. My Non-Prescriptive techniques are not widely known and need to be clearly and convincingly explained in order that my music can be listened to with a greater degree of understanding. That is why Scott’s input is so necessary and crucial. I have always believed that he would deliver something quite exceptional and he has. The finished text is masterful and scholarly, his insight to my ideas pellucid and profound. He commences with a wonderful, apt, extended metaphor and his constant interpositions of quotations always lend additional layers of insight. The level and delivery of prose is delightful and, I am certain, will instantly attract and maintain the interest of the reader.

After many readings and only a few minor adjustments the mouse clicked and the draft sped across the Atlantic and, as I anticipated, was enthusiastically welcomed by Stephen Sutton. The remarkable, indefatigable Stephen Sutton. The thought has occurred to me that if the UK was ever to experience the forecasted energy deficit then there is a solution which does not involve nuclear power, fracking or wind turbines. No. Just connect Stephen Sutton to the national power grid.

Within three days this human, organic fission reactor had produced the CD booklet, a complex coalescence of artwork, design, layout planning and all the necessary technical details involved in the production of a disc. An accomplishment all the more remarkable as, at the same time, he was compiling a file on the recently deceased Antony Hopkins for the BBC.

The spectral, other worldly fractal image by Peter Vodden which appears on the front of the cover is echoed on every page and on each page appears a photograph taken during the recording sessions by AVI who, whilst not recording, managed to shoot stealth photos of the goings-on. They convey a most intimate visual narrative of the recording sessions. There are, amongst the many, two that I personally cherish. The first is of a beaming, radiant Mary-yes, despite all the stress and pressures of making a recording-this was just so. The second, an image of Mary seated at the piano in a state of peaceful repose, hands still, after a most successful take.

Now another long period of expectancy awaits me.The CD, now advertised on the Divine Art website together with a short extract of the opening movement of Piano Sonata No. 7, will be released in October. Not only a very long winter but a very long summer. At least now the days are longer and the Manchester rain is warmer. Please visit my blog occasionally for if there is any news I will inform you.

Meanwhile, work on another C.D, is in progress . . .


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.