Alex Van Ingham, sound engineer, cellist and intrepid motorcyclist, has sent me a review from this month’s issue of Gramophone entitled “Radical Tonality” by Philip Clark.

“Clark sifts through a selection of discs of piano-based works that seek out a new relationship with traditional musical languages” so goes the defining introduction.

Unfortunately I think that Mr. Clark has attempted the near-impossible by reviewing the works of five major composers – Finnissey, Fox, AMM, Feldman, Wolff and myself in one article.  The almost inevitable result is that he gets to say almost nothing that is insightful about what, collectively, is a significant, perhaps pivotal body of work which places itself at the forefront of contemporary thinking and which points in new directions.

He writes that “Christian Wolff and Moreton Feldman are elder statesmen, composers, who made Christopher Fox, Michael Finnissey and Eric Craven think hard about the direction of their own work”.  In my own case that is just not accurate.   Since before my unhappy, frustrating experience as a student at the RNCM and many years before I came into contact with the music of Feldman and Wolff I had a strong feeling that I wanted to somehow develop a style of composition that would suggest and encourage the performer to engage with the music in a way that could result in different outcomes; that the performer should assume a very different role  and become part of the compositional process.  My early experiences of both playing and listening to various styles of jazz – Brubeck, Basie, Lousier, and others – offered much greater freedoms of performance than the classical fixed scores of Bach, Beethoven and Schubert which amongst others constituted my then musical diet.

Philip Clark continues “The evolution of postwar music, we are persistently told, has been etched around the ideological clashes between tonality and atonality, but these discs prove that assumption to be a lame simplification – the rearguard action of composers foraging around in the harmonic fault lines has been important too.   Tides washing faraway tonal debris ashore.   The surface lushness of Eric Craven’s harmonic language is offset by the discreet volatility of his structures”.

I regret that Philip does not feel it necessary or does not have sufficient space to flesh out the thoughts of that last sentence.   He hints at something intriguing and perhaps germane to his thread but goes no further.   What a tease this man is.   And to which of the Sonatas is he referring?

“The Challenge, to divine an overarching structural logic from out of these free-floating modules.   And the rest is up not so much for grabs, but for allowing ears scope to zone inside the evolving tonal tapestry, fingers intuiting where best to lay the next panel”.

Here, he is referring to the MoNP technique I have extensively employed in Sonata No.8.   The “free-floating modules” (several hundred of them) are those very events which serve as catalysts for melodic, rhythmic and structural development.   Is there some further connection here with the improvisatory methods inherent in all kinds of jazz.  I guess so.  And, is Mr. Clark implying some kind of relationship between my employment of varying degrees of tonality and my use of different kinds of structures?   Was he, at this point, beginning to consider to what extent the one effects or determines the other?

I must here acknowledge Philip Clark’s egalitarian considerations.   He treats all the composers with the same sparseness of comment.   I am left with a feeling of frustration.   Would it have been more satisfying and rewarding for the reader if each composer had been allocated separate reviews?   I offer this comment in the light of a review he wrote of “Set for Piano” in January 2013.   This review is a great read.   You can find it in one of the earlier posts of my blog.   He is wonderfully expansive and self-deprecating in this article.

And the title of this post?   “We are making something new”, words of Ezra Pound in conversation with Earnest Hemingway c 1921.

July 29th 2015

News from Divine Art this month includes a list of their Top 10 selling albums in the U.S. from July 2014 through June 2015.

My piano sonatas 7, 8 and 9 (msv28544) are included on that list.

I am elevated to a distinguished, established, rarefied company.  Goldstone and Clemmow, John Caskin, Carson Cooman, Beethoven, Szymanowski inter alia.   This after only my second C.D. and having been in the public domain for such a brief time.

It is barely credible that my music, together with my non-prescriptive ideas, should make such rapid progress and gain this degree of acceptance.

My warmest thanks to all who have become sufficiently interested in my work to acquire the C.D.   I hope you are rewarded by what you hear.

It is five weeks since I plucked my fingertip from the door frame, wrapped it tenderly in kitchen towel and conveyed it optimistically to the hospital only to see it cast into the black carnivorous maw of a waste disposal bin. That could act as a metaphor for so many things in life.

This accident has not prevented me from composing although I find it frustrating sometimes not to be able to try out what I write on the keyboard (the keyboard and my fingers have always acted as secondary cognitive centres) but I have found this to be not at all a negative situation.

At present the wound is intolerant of any pressure resulting from the striking of keys other than non-percussive, Feldman-like ppp articulations.   By the time I next I write a blog post I feel certain this condition will have improved.

To my amazement and great delight the finger is regenerating. I am growing a new fingertip! This miracle  must surely be a consequence of my amphibian DNA. I am slowly regaining some lost millimeters. The Gods are favouring me, are looking upon me kindly.

I would like to thank all those who have sent their commiserations and good wishes. It is heartening to think that so many people care. In particular I would like to mention a Mr. F. Hobson of London who, obviously concerned about my potential loss of span, suggests that I enquire into the purchase of a keyboard which has narrower keys.   Thank you, Frank, for your positive and radical idea which I will bear in mind.

Last week I managed to trap the little finger of my right hand in a rapidly closing door. I was careless, distracted at the time. I have lost about 4 mm or, in terms of span, a semitone, possibly a tone.

I took the severed part of my finger to the hospital which, fortunately, has a Hand Trauma Unit but, because of the crushing nature of the injury, the doctors were of the opinion that if they did attempt to re-attach it there would be less than 5% chance of success.

Their decision is to leave the injury to heal and then evaluate what can be done at that point.   At the present the main concern is that infection does not set in triggering complications.

Whatever challenges this setback throws up for me as a pianist, I will meet and overcome.   I like major and minor 9ths far too much to allow myself any other consideration.

The title is a phrase that is lifted from Scott McLoughlin’s sleeve notes. It has caught the eye of several writers, and has indeed claimed the attention of Michael Quinn who has placed a review of the three sonatas in The Journal of Music in Ireland which “has gained a reputation as a lively magazine for musical insight and debate, comprising first rate contributors, intelligent but accessible writing”.

Mr Quinn’s C.V. reveals a huge range of skills and expertise. He writes for many magazines, is an editor, publisher, producer, chairman, director, radio drama producer … and more.

I have read this review several times and will continue to read it, not only for the content, but for the pleasure it gives me to read such cogent, quality prose from a person who obviously is a master of his craft.

Two C.D’s. are reviewed in parallel in this piece. Mr. Quinn artfully interweaves his discussion between the two.   One, of course is the sonatas, the other a recently-released album of contemporary piano music by seven Irish composers. And who is the pianist? Cannot be anyone other than the magnificent Mary Dullea. In one of the pieces she vocalises  –  watch out Lady Gaga there’s a new kid on the block.

The thread that runs throughout the review(s) concerns composers who explore the boundaries of the piano “illustrating the instrument’s capacity for accommodating both full frontal assaults and guerilla-like incursions” His opening line refers to Ferrucio Busoni’s dictum that “everything is possible on the piano even when it seems impossible to you, or really is so”.

Many of his comments, his insights, reach deep into my composer’s psyche… “while he posits himself in opposition to the past and seeks to differentiate and distance his music from the present, the sonatas’ restive references to the extremes of Wagner, Sorabji, Tippett and various points in between betray the confinements of both”.

The level of his prose continues as he aims his sights on Sonata No. 8 … “he plays with the unsettling notion of identities fractured and refracted out of recognition, globules of sound time and again coalescing into near-definition only to disperse before they can be recognised and fixed …a virtual archipelago of shifting motivic landmasses washed repeatedly by shifting, waveforms and the flotsam and jetsam of drifting harmonies”.

These extracts are why I am sure that you, the reader, will turn to the full review and delight, revel, in Mr. Quinn’s wonderful exercising of the written word.

His closing paragraph echoes and fleshes out his introduction.

“… both discs find composers revelling in the intricate warp and weft of music in which defining threads are intentionally ravelled, deliberately obfuscated or omitted altogether … suggest a developing shift away from the boundaries of a composer’s imagination to the limits of a performer’s technical abilities offering up the alluring prospect that what seemed impossible or really is so on an instrument as venerable and venerated as the piano might actually become possible.

For a must-read of the full review, click on this link:


Fanfare Music Magazine was founded in 1977 by Joel Flegler who, after 38 years, is still the publisher. The H.Q. of this bimonthly magazine is in Tenafly, New Jersey. It describes itself as “The magazine for serious record collectors”. It has also “become the magazine for serious musicians”. So not many jokes or laughs here then. It has more than 50 (serious) contributors, three of which were sufficiently attracted by the CD to forward a review.

I am fortunate again.   All three reviews report my music in a charitable vein and have kind, generous comments and opinions to offer. This is not always so, especially with new music and new composers which so often seem to attract contentiousness and polemics for many reasons, some obvious, some not so. Q: To what extent is the evaluation of new music a subjective process dependent upon the personal values and preferences of the reviewer?

The first review is by Peter Burwasser who lives in Philadelphia. He has written about music for many years and, from an early age, seems to have been thoroughly engaged, immersed in music in many different ways, roles and capacities, one of these being editor of a new magazine Philadelphic Music Makers. He states that “my single most important goal as a writer about music is to get more people to listen… if we stop listening, it dies”. He feels “a special bond with the music of living composers”. I am one of those, just.

His review is mainly a technical appraisal of my non-prescriptive techniques. He goes on to say “[Craven’s] kind of wide ranging technique allows for considerable diversity in the music itself… it is not Minimalistic in the motoric, repetitive style of pioneering American practitioners such as Terry Riley and Steve Reich. Elsewhere the music is dense, even lush, especially in the Sonata No. 9, a three movement work that has the most traditional profile of the three here. He is a very interesting musical thinker, and there are intriguing ideas here”.

The second review is by Carson Cooman who is a research associate in Music and Composer in Residence at the Memorial Church Harvard University. He is a staggeringly prolific composer and, from what I have heard, his music is often charged with tremendous energy. He is also a concert organist, performing exclusively repertoire of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Of all the reviewers of these sonatas he is the only one who possesses a score to Sonata No. 8 because, as you might have read in an earlier post, after having listened to my “Set for Piano,” Carson contacted me and asked me to write a piece for him. I don’t for one second imagine that he would have expected anything like this sonata which is written almost entirely and uniquely in Middle Order format.

After a brief technical explanation of my compositional methods employed in the pieces he goes on to say “Craven’s interest and background in open form writing comes not from the John Cage aesthetic, but rather through the freedom found in improvisational styles (such as jazz). Thus the resulting music is not nearly as avant-garde as the description of its construction might lead one to believe. Scott McLaughlin’s extensive booklet notes provide a detailed trip through the pieces and their similarities and differences… The overall result of all three sonatas is an engaging listening experience that repays revisiting. There is nothing at all off-putting about Craven’s material, and while at times the forms are illusive on a first hearing of such large-scale music, subsequent listens (sic) begin to reveal further connections… Mary Dullea inhabits and conveys Craven’s musical landscape with both sensitivity and virtuosity”.

The third review is by Mary Nockin who lives in “a piece of beautiful desert land between Casa Grande and Gila Bend” where she writes and paints. Indeed some parts of her review are quite painterly. She was born into a family of classical music enthusiasts in New York City and studied piano, violin and singing. Later at Long Island she taught English and theater (sic), arts and was a soprano soloist at the local cathedral. She now writes for a number of music publications and is an opera critic.

Her article commences with a very brief introduction to Non-Prescription which precedes a brief analysis of the sonatas. One of her comments echoes Fanfare’s description of itself “This is not music for casual listening, but it is fascinating for the serious music lover” which, in a very tenuous way, provides some sort of symmetry,  a book-ending for this post.

To read the complete reviews please enter Reviews of Metier MSV 28554 Eric Craven Piano Sonatas

No 10/10 here

Last August in the post entitled “May I Present……….”   I promised to report every review “good or bad”.   Well, here’s one that is quite different from the others in several respects.

The American Record Guide has reviewed recordings since 1935.   It is published bimonthly and claims to offer “500 reviews every issue written by a freelance staff of over 80 writers”.   In presenting itself it strikes a bold, jaunty, in-your-face posture…..   “no stuffy British sentences (what, I wonder, is a British sentence?) or academic circumlocutions.   If you resent hype and jargon you will like our writing”.   For what kind of readership is this magazine targeted?

One of the writers is George Adams.   I cannot find too much information about him other than he is working on a music PhD (no specifics), that he is a composer (no further detail) and “plays most string instruments (even guitar) sic and keyboards”.  (An impressive range of skills).

After quoting from the cover of the CD – not the sleeve notes – he delivers his opinion.   For those of a weak disposition, stop reading now………   “I don’t find the music particularly compelling, partly because it doesn’t sound “non-prescriptive” at all.   The novelty of indeterminacy doesn’t save the more straight forward sections from their rather unexceptional material and substance”.

That’s it really.   Ammunition exhausted.   Unlike the other reviewers  Mr. Adams does not review the three sonatas individually.   He refers only to the opening of the seventh so one is left wondering whether his comments apply to all three sonatas or to this one section.   Personally I find this incompleteness to be ambiguous, unsatisfactory and confusing.

For the complete review please enter Reviews of Metier MSV 28544 Eric Craven Piano Sonatas.


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