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Pieces For Pianists Vol. 1

4.0 out of 5 stars

Ken Meltzer (Program Annotator at Atlanta Symphony Orchestra)

Reviewed in the United States on March 17, 2021

Eric Craven’s lovely piano miniatures, beautifully performed by Mary Dullea

This is the third release on the Métier label of piano music by the English composer Eric Craven to be reviewed in Fanfare. A recording of Craven’s Piano Sonatas Nos. 7-9 were reviewed by Peter Burwasser, Carson Cooman, and Maria Nockin in Issue 38:3 (Jan/Feb 2015). Peter J. Rabinowitz reviewed the composer’s Entangled States in 42:2 (Nov/Dec 2018).

The pianist for both recordings is Mary Dullea. In each she is credited as having both “performed and realised” the works at hand, for reasons I will explain. Eric Craven has, over the past two decades or so, explored a form of musical expression he terms “Non-Prescriptive”. Craven’s “Non-Prescriptive” mode of composition embraces three levels.

First is a “Lower Order”, in which “pitch, rhythm and duration of the notes are given. The performer decides upon such omitted parameters as tempo, dynamics, phrasing, pedaling and the articulation of the notes.”

“Middle Order” components are “short fragments of data which can be presented in LO or HO systems of notation.”

The final component, “Higher Order Non-Prescription is achieved by stripping away all parameters except pitch.” (All quotes are from the composer’s website: ericcravencomposer.wordpress.com/introduction).

In short, Craven’s “Non-Prescriptive” technique affords performing artists a remarkably broad latitude in interpreting and realizing the music in the printed score.

Mary Dullea, Craven’s longtime advocate and collaborator, fully embraces the opportunities and challenges presented by Craven’s “Non-Prescriptive” method. In her commentary included in the liner notes for the new Métier release of Craven’s Pieces for Pianists, Volume One (2017-19), Mary Dullea praises the music as “open-ended, non-hierarchical, inclusive and, commensurate with his approaches to non-prescriptive notation.” Dullea encourages pianists who play this music to “Go and unlock your own musical past, and future.” Craven intends his Pieces for Piano (Two Volumes of 25 works, each), “to reward any pianist with even modest standards of ability with almost immediate success.”

Although the technical difficulties increase as the works progress, “there is very little that will be beyond the capabilities of those who, because of life’s vagaries and vicissitudes, have perhaps not achieved the levels of pianistic excellence they once promised themselves.” Again, it must be emphasized that what the Métier disc preserves are Mary Dullea’s “realizations” of Craven’s pieces. In the hands of another pianist (or perhaps, even in the hands of Dullea on another occasion), these works might sound notably different than what is preserved on the recording. In Dullea’s interpretations, Craven’s Pieces range in length from 1:20 to 4:49. Textures tend to be relatively spare, as might be expected for works intended for pianists of varying degrees of technical accomplishment.

While Craven’s Pieces explore a wide range of moods and colors, they generally favor a more intimate and reflective mode of expression. To my ears, the Pieces evoke the piano music of such composers as Satie, Debussy, and Ravel, both in terms of textures and their harmonic world. There are many other influences, of course.

In his extensive and informative liner notes, Michael Quinn cites such composers as Cage, Pärt, and La Monte Young. But on the whole, if you enjoy the French Impressionists and their progeny, I think Craven’s Pieces for Pianists will be of particular interest to you. I fall into that category, and found this recording to be an engaging, captivating, and charming experience from start to finish. Dullea plays the music with clarity, sensitivity of phrasing, and an admirably rich palette of colors, all captured in first-rate sound. A fine recording, one that makes me look forward to hearing Volume Two.


Pieces For Pianists Vol. 1

5.0 out of 5 stars

John Pitt (New Classics)

Reviewed in the United States on February 16, 2021

A great discovery!

For most of his life Eric Craven has kept a very low profile, concentrating on his teaching career and quietly developing his ‘non-prescriptive’ composing method, a sort of aleatory style but which allows the performer varying degrees of freedom.

His earlier cycle of short pieces, ‘SET FOR PIANO”, was recorded after Craven was persuaded by leading pianists to make his work available. Highly praised, that technique is shown again to great effect in the ‘Pieces for Pianists’, producing music that is varied, interesting, but perfectly accessible for listener and performer. The composer states that his hope is ‘to reward any pianist with even modest ability with immediate success’ while also providing a challenge to more accomplished pianists to explore new territory.

Mary Dullea is an Irish pianist based in London, who enjoys a busy career as a soloist and chamber musician and regularly performs and broadcasts in many countries. She is also Reader in Music at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her exceptional discography demonstrates her support as a champion of new music. Her pianism and musicality as well as remarkable virtuosity make her an ideal interpreter of Eric Craven’s joyous, playful and satisfying music which, as she says, ‘will prove endlessly rewarding’.

This collection is the first of two volumes of world premiere recordings available on CD and in HD digital audio. Each of the 25 pieces, simply named 1 to 25, has its individual charm and miniaturist precision, by turns reflective, ethereal, authoritative and questioning. Detailed notes on this adventurous music and album concept by Michael Quinn are included in a booklet that also has biographies of both pianist and composer.

‘Every note, every phrase must be there for a purpose. An immediacy has to be established. There has to be a clarity of ideas and a clarity of the expression of those ideas.’ – Eric Craven.


This is probably the shortest review ever devised by woman. It is written by Stephanie Boyd from American Record Guide, which is America’s oldest classical music review magazine founded in 1935. It says of itself “Independence is a guiding principle: in an industry dominated by advertising, ARG remains free of advertiser influence which results in few ads and no puff pieces for record labels or artists”

It is so short that, unusually, I am including it in its entirety in this blog post.

MSV 28610 Pieces for Pianists, 1

Quirky and upbeat, these mesmerizing works by composer Eric Craven are tonal in language but unconventional in the way that they are notated: the composer has written fixed note values and left dynamic and tempo choices up to the pianist.(And also pedalling,phrasing,articulation and overall interpretation/realisation. ed) Irish pianist Mary Dullea is given extra credit on this album and for good reason: not only did she play these pieces, she “realized” them as well.

The result of this artistic input from these two musicians is one of true artistic alchemy. Dullea plays to her strengths while showing the bright colors of Craven’s work with aplomb and grace and care.

The title is not mine. It is borrowed from Aldous Huxley’s Brief Candles (1965) a book of 4 short stories. He, in turn, took it from a line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Mac’s Soliloquy “Out, out, brief candle”.


Praise indeed for Pieces, Plaudits for the Pianist.

This review is by Grego Applegate Edwards who describes himself as a writer, musician, composer and editor. For many years he wrote articles for Cadence which is a periodical covering jazz and impro. He runs three blogs which together appear to cover most genres and styles of music from the Late Romantic to the Post Modern music of the 20th and 21st centuries. He states that his combined blogs and reviews number over 3,000.

Unusually, refreshingly, he selects music that he likes and as a result there is non of the “music from hell” reportage which so often is a feature of other reviewers. If he doesn’t like a release he simply does not write about it. I have not come across this singular mind set before.

As I researched the work, the output of Grego, I almost immediately began to acquire a growing respect pertaining to his profound knowledge, his insightfulness, his talent and his intelligence. His work made a deep impression upon me. I will end this short introduction with his words “I make music, write music, I write about music, I live music.”

Eric Craven, Pieces for Pianists Volume One, Mary Dullea

Life is short, art is long. Old words but they still ring true. Ars longa, vita brevis. And on a day like today the longness of art asserts itself in spite of how short existence might be. That is because for me it is a matter of enjoying the music of a composer I have missed until now. Eric Craven reminds us that art is long because he makes music that helps lengthen it all. I have been enjoying his album of piano music that has come out recently. It is the Volume One of his Pieces for Pianists (Metier msv 28601), written between 2017 and 2019 and very nicely performed by Mary Dullea.

This volume includes the first 25 pieces, miniatures short and very much alive with character. So in this case “art is short,” but there’s a bunch of it so it gets long eventually! The music is tonal, playful in ways that remind slightly of Satie without owing the least bit to him in any obvious way. The pieces revel in, if I might say this, the sheer pleasure of their sounding. It is not a music that challenges so much as it affirms itself in its singing of itself pianistically. And that owes a great deal to the pianist as well as the composer.

The CDs liners tell us that this music is as much concerned as anything with the microscience implied in the miniature, the musical equivalent to sub-atomic science. Then too the composer wants in this “to encourage and excite both a honing of technique and a quickening of the impulse toward interpretation.” Hence the title we should note is “Pieces for Pianists” as much as for piano! And happily the pianist rises to the challenge and gives us the kind of poetic, interpretive readings that Maestro Craven no doubt appreciates.

As listener, we hear this and other dimensions as well, or at least I do, appreciatively. So for me there are moments that seem to refer back to old Music Hall and Jazz elements but as if through a lens, refracted. Other pieces have a reference to playfully “practicing” the piano, only not so much just in the doing as in remembering such a thing. There are elements of humor, of reflection, of reflexively evoking time well spent with the piano in days past, earlier years, formative times. So in the doing is the remembrance of the doing.

The hopefully wonderful thing about it all is that it works, that the music evokes with a bright, vivacious charm that does not try and revive some previous musical world as it takes the memory of it and makes of it a contemporary commentary, so to speak.

In the end we have 25 miniature gems as much fun to hear as they no doubt are to play. It most certainly makes me want to hear Volume Two as soon as it comes out. Craven writes for the pianist with the care and consideration that all-but-ensures that the performances will be all one might hope for in the hands of a piano master. And so bravo Mary Dullea for coming though with infinite care and zeal. And of course bravo Eric Craven. This one is a lot of fun. Do not miss it. Hurrah!

Posted Tuesday March 9, 2021 by Grego Applegate on: classicalmodernmusic.blogspot.com


New Classics is a busy and dynamic organisation. Its areas of activity are many and include reviews of CDs, books, DVDs and Blue-Ray film releases. The music they review ranges from country and rock to jazz, blues, opera and classical. DVDs on review include television, music and films from Box Office movie hits to film noir and classics. I am impressed with that eclectic diversity of genres.

Their latest reviews include Pieces of Pianists Vol. 1.

Much of the review has been mined from the CD booklet but John Pitt, the author, has to get his information from somewhere. Where better to go?

This review, hopefully the first of many, has some very nice comments about the Pieces, although it is somewhat short on detail:

ERIC CRAVEN – PIECES FOR PIANISTS, VOL. 1 METIER MSV 28601

” For most of his life Eric Craven has kept a very low profile, concentrating on his teaching career and quietly developing his ‘non-prescriptive’ composing method, a sort of aleatory style but which allows the performer varying degrees of freedom. His earlier cycle of short pieces, ‘SET’, was recorded after Craven was persuaded by leading pianists to make his work available. Highly praised, that technique is shown again to great effect in the ‘Pieces for Pianists’, producing music that is varied, interesting, but perfectly accessible for listener and performer. The composer states that his hope is ‘to reward any pianist with even modest ability with immediate success’ while also providing a challenge to more accomplished pianists to explore new territory. 

Mary Dullea is an Irish pianist based in London, who enjoys a busy career as a soloist and chamber musician and regularly performs and broadcasts in many countries. She is also Reader in Music at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her exceptional discography demonstrates her support as a champion of new music. Her pianism and musicality as well as remarkable virtuosity make her an ideal interpreter of Eric Craven’s joyous, playful and satisfying music which, as she says, ‘will prove endlessly rewarding’.

This collection is the first of two volumes of world premiere recordings available on CD and in HD digital audio. Each of the 25 pieces, simply named 1 to 25, has its individual charm and miniaturist precision, by turns reflective, ethereal, authoritative and questioning. Detailed notes on this adventurous music and album concept by Michael Quinn are included in a booklet that also has biographies of both pianist and composer.

‘Every note, every phrase must be there for a purpose. An immediacy has to be established. There has to be a clarity of ideas and a clarity of the expression of those ideas.’ – Eric Craven. “

John Pitt


Pieces for Pianists Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 were recorded at the Menuhin Hall, Surrey in December 2019.

The backdrop to the recording was heavy incessant rain, fields becoming lakes and roads and motorways closed because of flooding. The world was swathed in a blanket of thick, grey, lowering cloud, the landscape rendered colourless. Going anywhere was difficult yet Mary Dullea, Adaq Khan and myself somehow managed to convene and over two days of intense work record 50 pieces, 25 for each volume. If you visit my previous post, “The Making of Pieces for Pianists” you will read in detail about the multi-talented people who have contributed to the making of the two CDs.

I had hoped that Volume 1 would have been released in the summer of this year but in this Covid-ridden world this was not to be. The release date is now Feb 12th 2021, 14 months after the recording. It comes out under the Metier Label msv20861. Volume 2 will follow mid-year. If you go to Eric Craven Composer Blog, you will find audio samples. Click on this and you will be able to listen to No.25, the last piece of Volume 1. The scores of Pieces for Pianists Vol 1 are available as a PDF download from the Divine Art website (catalogue number EDN80020) and PDF or print from Naxos Sheet Music Publishing.

As I have done for my three previous discs I will post the reviews which to date have been so kind and generous as you will read if you care to delve into my previous blog posts.

May I wish you all peace, good health and good fortune in the coming year. Dare we begin to hope that we are on the cusp of better times?


Despite the fearsome Covid-19 viral strain having such a catastrophic effect upon the fabric of normalcy, this dystopian nightmare having such appalling consequences, my fabulously talented team are making good progress in regard to this complex project. I have the most gifted, talented group of people who are contributing, using their own fields of expertise, towards the completion of two CDs and their associated printed music. Allow me to make some introductions:

Adaq Khan is a London based sound engineer and producer. He is rapidly making for himself a reputation as one of the country’s leading recording engineers. His CV includes recording at the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Festival Hall, the Barbican and, further afield, the Czech Republic. Accolades include Gramophone’s Editor’s Choice and iTunes Classical No. l Album. And, last December, one week before Christmas, he recorded the twin CDs of my latest project at the Menuhin Hall in Surrey where we met one rain-soaked morning. In order that we could make an prompt start to our recording he had arrived early at the Hall in the cold dark wet to unload and set up his impressive array of equipment. He had heard me banging on windows and locked doors attempting to gain admittance and sped along corridors and stairs to rescue me from the incessant downpour which was to characterise the winter months.

Over two long intensely focused days he worked with unbroken concentration and attention to detail, making countless annotations on my scores and adjustments to his sophisticated machinery, his tools. We soon established an easy working relationship as we worked towards a common goal. After a long day of recording he continued to work late into the night, alone in the empty vacant Hall. Yet he was there waiting, ready, early the following morning. He was giving one hundred per cent.

He is now working with our star performer Mary Dullea. He has sent her the second edits of the 50 pieces that constitute the 2 albums. He is waiting to hear from Mary with regard to whether she requires further engineering as they work together to achieve perfection.

Mary: Dr. Mary Dullea, one of Europe’s leading pianists and a dedicated advocate of contemporary music. Director of Performance at the Royal Holloway University and a founding member of the dazzlingly awesome Fidelio Trio. Her CV is an amazing record of her stellar career. I am not going to attempt to dip into it or cherry pick her successes. If you are sufficiently intrigued, you can easily with two clicks, delve into it yourself and be suitably impressed.

This is our fourth collaboration. She is an enthusiastic advocate of my innovative Non-Prescriptive methods of composing to such an extent that she readily agreed to record the Pieces without having seen the scores. Her unwavering support for my music gives me strength to continue in some of my darker moments. She is a most wonderful person to work with. Her magnificent realisations of my music showcase both her extraordinary pianistic skills and her understanding, her empathy, of my work and evoke the most enthusiastic accolades from the reviewers.

Since our first collaboration, Set for Piano (2012) I have written much about this remarkable artist. You might, if you care to read more, rummage through my past blog posts or Mary’s website.

It is my intention that the printed music of the Pieces should be made available at the same time that the CDs are released. Given that my team remain free from viral infection, that will be around June. The person responsible for transcribing my handwritten scores into something very much more legible is Ashil Mistry. We are working closely together. He drip feeds me with the first edits for me to proof read. I am always aware that if I do not recognise the inevitable errors and send them back to Ashil for correction, then these will go on to be published. I spend many hours comparing his edits to my original scores and then as a further safeguard I play them very slowly on my piano. Ashil and myself are working towards making 50 perfect error-free pieces before we finally send them to Divine Art which will act as an outlet for sales. The Pieces will be available separately in PDF download format but I would like both the volumes to be also available as complete sets. The cost of this, however, might be prohibitive. It will have to be costed.

And now the unique, and this is not hyperbole, Stephen Sutton, founder and CEO of Divine Art Recording Studios. This company was formed by Stephen in 1993. He is based in Vermont, America, some three thousand miles from Manchester, England. How is that for social distancing? He has acquired several labels, amongst them Metier, Athene, Diversions and Heritage Media. He works tirelessly – and that is an understatement – to produce CDs, more than 500 at this time of writing, of the highest quality and which feature some of the world’s most notable artists and composers. He is one of the most remarkable people I have had the good fortune to meet. Over the years our relationship has slowly matured and now we are good friends. His other obsession is South Shields Football Club which he follows from afar with great passion. I have sent him a club scarf and mug which he greatly appreciates when swaddled in depths of a Vermont winter. He now awaits the final edits from Adaq, the scores from Ashil and the sleeve notes from Michael Quinn.

Michael Quinn: In 2015 when the double CD of my Three Piano Sonatas were released, it was met by very favourable reviews. For me it was fascinating for me to read each reviewer, their different understandings of my music and their different styles of writing. One reviewer caught mine (and Mary’s) attention. It was his wonderful empathy and quality of prose. You can find his review amongst my blog posts “taking the listener everywhere and nowhere” March 2015. And back then, five year’s ago, I thought how wonderful it would be if I could persuade him to write the sleeve notes for a (then undetermined) project. So a few weeks ago I did get around to asking him and promptly received a most enthusiastic acceptance which included a relevant quote from the philosopher Wittgenstein written without any conceit at all. His review of the Sonatas included a quote from Busoni. Clearly this man reads a lot of very serious stuff and remembers in detail what he does read. I wish I could do that. He is no run- of- the- mill scribe. I look forward to reading his sleeve notes, how he approaches the Pieces and his expressions, given his gift for wonderful prose.

And to the art work. This is a collaboration between Alwyn Egginton, Peter Vodden and Stephen Sutton. A long time ago, once upon a time, I taught in a school in Wythenshawe, Manchester. It was my solemn duty to play solemn music as the school assembled for morning prayer. This for two years. On my last morning at the school, I released my frustration at the piano in no uncertain manner. The teachers and pupils shared in my musical rebellion. The headmaster however was not pleased. By noon the Art Teacher Alwyn Egginton had produced a wonderful dynamic sketch of myself at the piano arms and legs flailing, the piano disintegrating. Peter Vodden, my dear friend, has tinkered with the sketch and in doing so has deleted the Headmaster’s comments- “Thank you Mr. Craven that is just what we need to start the day”. He has sent this modified sketch as a suggestion for the art work to Stephen Sutton who has gone along with the idea. What will the final version of Alwyn’s cartoon look like after Peter and Stephen have shared their ideas and have further fettled? Already Peter has added colour to Alwyn’s pencilled original work.

And so, as Covid-19 continues to drain the life from so many countries, economies and businesses, whilst millions are falling ill and thousands are dying a lonely isolated death, amazingly,in the context of all that, my talented team, separated by hundreds, (in the case of Divine Art, thousands of miles), working from three different countries, making expert use of technology, continue to diligently work towards what I hope will be two successful CDs together with the associated music.

My next post will be written when all these separate complexities have, under the aegis of Stephen Sutton, coalesced into a product which I hope might find favour with the many pianists out there looking for something, which, because the pieces are presented in my Non-Prescriptive Low Order format, offer something that is different from the usual pieces for pianists.


Manchester Grammar School 2017. Anthony Goldstone’s alma mata. A wonderful, celebratory concert dedicated to the memory and sad loss of this supremely talented, forever modest pianist. His repertoire could only be described as eclectic. He once hand copied for me a simple beautiful piece by Manos Hadjidakis, “Conversations for a Little White Sea Shell”. I still play that piece from his manuscript and am always beguiled by its melodic appeal, simplicity and cultural nuance. Go on to include composers such as Messiaen, Mussorgsky, Mozart inter alia and you begin to understand just how diverse his tastes and repertoire were at a relatively early stage when his career was yet to burgeon.

Unfortunately in later life Tony became a victim of a late-diagnosed prostate cancer. Treatment was in vain. He passed on 2nd January 2017. The event was, in hindsight, hugely ironic for me. Within a few weeks I was informed that I also had an aggressive prostate cancer. I have chronicled my journey, my relationship with The Alien in previous posts.

The event was facilitated by the notable, seemingly indefatigable, recorderist John Turner and hosted by Tony’s widow Caroline Clemmow who chose to include in the programme and personally perform one of the piano pieces that I wrote and dedicated to Tony many years ago. It was a typically thoughtful gesture which meant so much to me. The programme, the exquisite performances, had concluded and the splendid refreshments were being demolished molto presto by performers and audience. John, plate in hand, engages me in conversation and unwittingly says something that not only ricocheted around my head – and still does – but was to become the inspiration of this project. His remarks were to the effect that my music would be performed more frequently if it wasn’t so incredibly difficult to play and that only a very few could even begin to publicly engage with the demands of my middle and higher order Non-Prescriptive music.

And, thinking about this, I had, with reservations, to agree. John had made a valid point. There is Mary Dullea, myself and a person who lives in Yorkshire who, when she is not able to sleep at night descends the stairs and spends 15 minutes or so realising a selected page of my High order format. She has taken quite naturally to my Non-Prescriptive methodologies. I am convinced that her being a contemporary free -thinking artist endows her with a suitable mindset which enables her to fluently accept and realise the challenges of my music.

Following this seminal conversation with John I made a huge decision to embark on a major project which was to be so different to my usual output. These 2 volumes, each consisting of 25 pieces, constitute a considerable seismic change to my previous recorded music. They are quite tonal, abound in melodic, hopefully attractive, ideas and all are quite short. Call it Craven Lite. I have become temporarily the Richard Clayderman of contemporary piano music. They are technically quite approachable. My intention being to reward any pianist with even modest standards of ability with almost immediate success. In both volumes there is a slowly increasing gradation of technical difficulty but there is very little that will be beyond the capabilities of those who, because of life’s vagaries and vicissitudes, have perhaps not achieved the levels of pianistic excellence they once promised themselves. Or for students who might wish to explore, to play pieces that are very different from the usual fare. For, importantly, all these pieces are presented in Low order format which might sound formidable but isn’t. What it means is that for each piece the parameters of tempo, dynamics, phrasing, pedalling and instructions re the articulation of the notes are omitted from the scores. Unlike most music this method of Non Prescription allows the performer a great freedom of interpretation. He/she is invited to engage with the music in such a way that he/she becomes part of the compositional process by being able to determine the outcome of any performance. Furthermore, the pianist may elect to vary these missing parameters (instructions) and, by doing so, can achieve any number of different outcomes. I have played most of these pieces to Caroline Clemmow, for years an Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music examiner. Her enthusiastic verdict were that the pieces were “fit for purpose”.

Pieces for Pianists will be available both on CD and in printed downloadable format sometime in 2020. The ever- supportive superb Mary Dullea will be recording in late December at the Menuhin Hall, Surrey. When I first asked her if she would be prepared to commit to this quite divergent project she accepted without a moment’s hesitation before she had even looked at the scores.

It is my intention that the release of both the recordings, together with the music, will assist and inspire those pianists who wish to engage with Pieces for Pianists. The pieces played by one of the most foremost pianists who is noted for her interest in contemporary music can serve as a guide, a starting point. For Mary will be able to demonstrate just one way in which these pieces can be realised. And if conservative -minded pianists chose to imitate the recorded realisations, this cannot be such a bad thing to attempt to emulate the performances of Mary Dullea.

And that piece I wrote for Tony? As a gesture to both Tony and Caroline, I have decided to include it in Volume 1 of Pieces for Pianists. But now, in keeping with all the other pieces, it is offered without any instructions or guidance in respect to performance.


“You’re cured”. How can such simple words mean so much? And it is not the first time that I have been the recipient of such good news. Twenty years ago, after having undergone surgery to excise a high risk malignant melanoma, I received a similar verdict in the same hospital, the quite unique Christie. Then I stood, this time I was seated. Then my hair was blond, now it is grey. And I am being informed that recent blood tests indicate that The Alien, an aggressive Gleason 8, is no longer in attendance. The PSA level came in at less than 0.1, the testosterone level less than 0.2. Results that I had hoped for were now indisputable hard data. The would be assassin has fled the scene, defeated by the advances in medical science together with the combined efforts of the doctors, nurses, radiographers and many others, some working in distant pharmaceutical laboratories. People who I will never meet.

 

I exit the hospital into a late, cold, darkening wet Friday afternoon harbouring complicated emotions. I am euphoric yet chastened as I remember my mother and all the cherished life-long friends who I have lost, four alone in the last two years. Due to late diagnoses, their prognoses were quite poor. They lasted for only a few weeks. I deeply miss them more than I can put into words. Most of you reading this will share the same feelings of irreplaceable loss.

 

I have looked at some stats. There are approximately 1,000 new cancer cases in the UK per week. And although cancer survival rates are improving, more than 3,000 people die from cancer each week. One quarter of these will last no longer than six months, mainly due to late diagnosis. And, although the UK is the fifth largest economy in the world, Britain has the worst cancer survival rate in Western Europe. How can this equate? Is there something profoundly wrong here? I have always taken great care to maintain an apolitical blog but I am compelled at this point to say that so often I have strongly disagreed with Governments’ (pl) spending priorities. So often I am of the opinion that significant amounts of the public purse are carelessly spent, perhaps squandered on projects, causes that I deem are not nearly as vital as saving, extending, improving the quality of peoples’ lives by providing enhanced medical provision. But enough of this. It’s a worn tired debate. My hat, or yours, thrown into the ring will go unnoticed. Back to the thread.

 

For the second time in my life I have somehow, for no apparent reason, managed to evade the voracious, pitiless grasp of The Grim Reaper when so many countless others have not. Many years ago I reached the firm conclusion based on thinking, observation and evidence, that life is a random, illogical game of chance. We delude ourselves if for one moment, we think that we are in control of our lives, our destiny. Some will simply be luckier than others and no amount of philosophy or theology can make much sense of that because there is no sense or reason to be found. Disappointingly so, there is no Grand Plan. The Gods are cruel and indiscriminate, perhaps even more so than homo sapiens. They give life only to take it away on a whim, a throw of a dice, a spin of the wheel. I am remembering a hymn sung at my old school. One of the lines – “Live every day as if it were thy last”. We should have sung that one line. Every day. Fortissimo.

 

And now what lies ahead a propos further treatment? The thirteen weeks cycle of Prostap injections will continue for a further two years. During the third year the side effects should, hopefully, disappear. But I must be careful to say that side effects can be widely different for every man. For me they mean that I must fight the ever present fatigue each day beginning with every morning. It is ever-present. The temptation to sit and do nothing is to be resisted. It is always a challenge. A test of will power. Resolve has taken the place of testosterone as a driver. However, it is possible to wade through water however deep. And then there are the hot sweats, at the moment 70 – 90 per week. They are quite debilitating. I am presently attending weekly sessions of (western-based) acupuncture at the Christie with the hope that this treatment can, to some extent, alleviate the frequency, intensity and duration of these nuisances. Getting up six or seven times per night to wipe myself dry results in sleep deprivation adding to the levels of fatigue.

 

I will be monitored every six months for the remainder of my life. At present the one major indicator of renewed malignancy is a PSA test and I am, in addition, scheduled to visit the Urology department at the Wythenshawe hospital. I have not been there for some months. I hope there is some kind of trail for me to follow. The numerous signs pointing the way to this department have never worked for me.

 

And at times there are still some residual, quite inconvenient side effects from the month of Radio Therapy that I had in August/September. Scroll back to ” Medical Science v The Alien – A Month of Radiology”. September 16th 2018. And, as a reward for doing so, you will find a photograph of me after my last treatment ringing Emma’s bell.

 

And my music? Some years ago when I started this blog it was my sole intention to chronicle my progress as a composer but, as my diagnosis fifteen months ago so changed my life, I decided to write about my life as a composer living with cancer. The rate of my composing has slowed due to the fact that on so many occasions I can barely summon the energy to rise to the cognitive level required for composition. But I have persisted. I have never given up. I don’t give up on very much at all. And I have written many new pieces, all of them of quite short duration and, in doing so, I am nearing the completion of my next project, more of which I will disclose in future posts. And, after this incredible news regarding my health I can settle and write that tenth piano sonata. And the eleventh. And the twelfth.

 

During the last fifteenth months or so I, as a patient, visited three Manchester hospitals – The Christie, Wythenshawe and Trafford. There have been many visits sometimes two, maybe three a week, and on every single occasion I have been so greatly impressed by the professionalism, the singular dedication of the doctors, nurses and all the supporting staff. These are exceptional people working every day under considerable pressures and stress. Their efforts can only be described as truly heroic. And it is because of these people and others involved in the development, the rapid advance of medical science that I can now look forward to extension of my life. I will be forever in their debt.

 

For me now, there is light at the end of the tunnel but, as I look back on the last fifteen months, there was never any other outcome to be considered. Not for one second. One has to always believe and, if there is nothing else, there is always hope.


Thursday 28th January.   The weather is in synchrony with the season.   Snow has somehow managed to penetrate the ever- present mantle of Manchester’s polluted air.  The mercury hovers around zero. Vehicles are stranded, abandoned and on the pavements (sidewalks) people tread according to their age.  The elderly with caution.   The young progress regardless of the fact that there is absolutely no friction ‘twixt foot and the compacted, trodden snow. I also see the occasional T- shirt and shorts. What unaccountable science is going on here?

 

I am bound for the Christie hospital for the first of nine treatments of acupuncture which might, hopefully, ameliorate the debilitating effects of the hormone therapy, which, in conjunction with radio therapy, is being employed to keep The Alien at bay. I find my way to the Re-Upholstery Department and, after only a short wait, am called, beckoned, welcomed and led into a small room.

Anna has entered into my life.

She sets about the chore of assembling some kind of patient profile. I can anticipate the questions, Anna cannot anticipate the responses. Allergies? Salads and children. My subsequent answers are equally informative. The profiling is quietly abandoned for the day, put to one side.I am already becoming aware of the fact that Anna has a natural calm, a serenity about her even to the pitch and cadence of her voice. Her persona, her profession a seeming perfect fit.

 

And now it is down to the business. Within a few minutes twelve needles are growing vertically from my feet and legs. An extraordinary sight. Anna dims the lights and leaves me lying prostate(sic) on the bed. I am aware that on the other side of the door there is animated conversation, laughter, an energy and vibrancy which is acting as a counterpoint to my still, quiet room. I examine the shadows, the strange shapes from the dimmed lights which are now painted onto the walls. And the minutes glide seamlessly, imperceptibly by.
A gentle tap on the door. Anna enters, my eyes adjust to the sudden brightness and the room becomes animated,filled once again with her practiced dialogue.In some strange way she has never left the room. The needles are removed, carefully counted. Am I supposed to feel any different? I take a quick inventory of myself. No, I don’t think so. But, during the following week, I experience half my usual number of hot sweats and, for several nights, sleep for more than my usual 4 or 5 hours.

 

Seven days later I am in the same tiny room. Anna needs to know how I have reacted to the first session of acupuncture. The response, however, is not straight forward. The improvement on the frequency of hot sweats might be due to the fact that the week has been the last in the thirteen week cycle of Prostap (H.T.) injections which is my regime. I usually feel better at this stage. Or  could it be that the acupuncture is already having beneficial effects? It is supposed to be an accumulative treatment. This line of enquiry is laid to rest.

 

This week 16 needles sprout from my feet, legs, hands, brow and head. Anna is upping the game. A routine is already becoming familiar. Dimmed lights, a disappearing Anna, a sudden silence. Again, I am alone, insulated, surrounded by mute silhouettes drawn for a short while upon the walls. My environment at such variance with the energy and vitality that is just a short distance from me.Time feels to be suspended, somehow it takes on a different characteristic, felt rather than rationalised.

 

Time drifts by, neither fast or slow. There are few references, no measures, hardly any delineation.And, as last week, I am keenly aware of the juxtapositon between my silent, still chamber and the animated bustle of the hospital. The gentle tap on the door, Anna materialises and brightness and normality are restored. She begins to explain some of the techniques that are involved in the mysterious art of acupucture whilst the needles disappear, one by one. This week we both count together. She begins to teach me some techniques which will hopefully help me manage the hot sweats which plague me each day and night.She refers to these as tools.

 

I exit the Christie into the cold, dark chill of an early February evening and soon become part of the endless, slow- moving line of commuter traffic. Will those sixteen needles have any favourable effect upon the fresh injection of the Prostap? I usually feel quite below par for some days after an infusion of this powerful cocktail. Let’s see……………