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Yes.   Just so.   A series of concerts held in the high-vaulted  Firth Hall on the University of Sheffield Campus commencing 17.45.

I meet Mary Dullea on the stage in the Hall.   Her welcoming embrace somewhat tempered by the fact that her allotted warm-up time is ticking away and the piano is still under lock and key.   Mobile calls, runners dispatched, the key duly arrives.   Mary and her page-turner immediately begin practice.   Precious time has been lost.   She will not appreciate me hanging around, so I leave to join my friends in the cafe downstairs.

17.15.   The first of the audience arrives.   The start of an intermittent trickle which culminates in a sudden infusion of students three minutes before the concert is to begin.

I have two concerns.   The first is that Firth Hall is adjacent to a main arterial road.   Four lanes of traffic at rush hour… This, compounded by the imposing presence of a large arched window at the rear of the stage.   Concert halls should try not to have windows – and there is a hospital three hundred metres near.   My concerns grow into anxieties as I imagine the recital being punctuated by a constant series of strident minor thirds and a wailing glissandi of police and ambulance services racing past.   But remarkably this was not to be the case.

I would like to take this opportunity to offer my sincere thanks to the considerate folk of Sheffield who so kindly postponed their heart attacks, falls from scaffolding and RTA’s for the duration of the concert.

My second concern was that this hour did not constitute the best of times to expect people to attend a concert.   My head imaged Mary and me sitting on the edge of the stage kicking our heels staring at row after row of unoccupied seats.   But no, there they were studying the programme, texting, reading newspapers, leaning, whispering.   A few going to the foot of the stage attempting to catch a glimpse of the scores neatly positioned by a now absent Mary.

It’s time.   The students have arranged themselves en bloc. The Hall, the piano and the page turner anticipate and from side stage she is amongst us, welcoming, bowing, smiling, scanning.    Settles herself on the piano stool, positions herself, body leaning slightly forward, touches the music, feels for the pedals, listens to the audience, focuses, pauses.   Expectancy builds.

Music is suddenly permeating the Hall..   Numbers FOUR and TEN from THE SET.   A nice contrast, a gentle easing into what is to follow which is the recently released Piano Sonata No. 9.   It’s a good audience.   There is an intensity of listening, a concentration.   Everybody has become part of the performance.   Each person is now an extension of the realisations unfolding before their eyes, in their heads.   Each has become part of the synergy.

There is a pause at the end of the first movement and the Director of Performance gets up from the piano and walks a few feet to the foot of the stage, stoops and collects three large pieces of card upon which are attached the pages of the second movement.   She returns to the piano and, standing, clips them carefully on to the music stand.   Sits, settles again, hovers.   The audience have taken a keen interest.   This is different, as is the High Order realisation that Mary has already started.   This realisation is not quite as “aggressive” or as “violent” – reviewers’ words – as the one on the recording but it again ends with a thunderous cascade of sounds underpinned by a furious repeated ostinato figure low in the base.

The pieces of card are passed to the page turner and yet again Mary goes through her routine before commencing the third and last movement.   Forty five minutes of music and perhaps three or four coughs.   Not bad for this time of year I think to myself.   The applause is enthusiastic.   Mary calls me up from the second row.   I reach up and take both her hands before turning to the audience.   I wait for the applause to cease and briefly thank them for their support.   Whilst I wait for Mary some students engage me in questioning conversation and make some interesting and valid points. They have not encountered non-prescriptive music before.  It’s all rather novel not having to be told how to play, what to do. The idea obviously appeals.

And then to a nearby tavern.   Mary is revived by a glass of Shiraz.   A large glass.   I am driving back to Manchester so it’s a lime and soda for me.   My small circle of friends are gathered around Mary, our conversation competing with another very different genre of music.

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”.

Marbecks

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:-

ERIC CRAVEN
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:-

http://www.theclassicalreviewer.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/mary-dulleas-new-recording-from-metier.html

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

MARY DULLEA (piano)

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.

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