Composer Eric Craven, whose roots are in jazz as well as classical music, uses unusual styles of non-prescriptive notation. In “Low Order Non-Prescriptive” notation (LoNP) only pitches and rhythms are given. The player has to supply tempo, dynamics, phrasing, and articulation. In “Middle Order Non-Prescriptive” notation (MoNP) short musical fragments with rhythms and pitches are free floating on the page. They can be used in any order determined by the performer. In “High Order Non-Prescriptive” notation (HoNP) the performer is given only note heads with no stems to imply duration or groupings. Since the first and fifth movements of Craven’s Sonata No. 7 are written in LoNP notation, he has given pianist Mary Dullea rhythms and pitches but nothing else. She has filled in the tempo, phrasing, dynamics, and articulation. Movements two and four use HoNP notation, so there are only stemless black spots on the page with arrows that suggest repeating certain motifs. The catchy rhythms of the first movement give it an accessible beginning, even though there is no melodic base. The second movement is slow, soft, and contemplative. Occasionally a few loud chords appear, but mainly this section seems to be storing up energy for later. The third movement is the crux of the work. It flows like a living river. Its surface reflects the sunlight but its depths harbor deep mysteries. The movement is replete with ever-shifting harmonies of various musical hues. The fourth movement is rather like the second in its contemplative mode, and the last, the finale, brings back the rhythmic ebullience of the first movement.
Craven writes that each event may serve as a catalyst for further melodic and rhythmic development. This process is the essence of Middle Order Non-Prescription. To promote the events as starting points for exploration, the majority of them are presented with comparatively simple melodic and rhythmic structures. His Eighth Sonata starts out in a hall of mirrors. It contains parcels of sound that Mary Dullea could play in any order desired. For this reason another performer’s realization of the piece could be totally different. In Dullea’s performance, events become floating musical ideas that eventually form a structure. Designed by composer and performer, the structure appears solid but eventually dissolves back into the evolving images from which it was born.
Craven’s Ninth Sonata begins with delicate lyrical music that reminds me of gentle spring raindrops falling on an English garden. In the tone colors one can hear reminiscences of Debussy and Scriabin. In the second movement, written in HoNP, Mercurial treble motifs flash by the listener. One can only get a glimpse of the meaning of each before a huge powerful bass overwhelms them. The treble is unbowed, however and returns to radiate sunbeams as it finds an accommodation with the bass as the movement ends. The finale brings back the flashing treble segments, and we feel that the peace has returned to the now sunny English garden. The sound is totally clear on this recording and the piano sounds as though it was in a small concert hall for a recital. This is not music for casual listening, but it is fascinating for the serious music lover.