Eric Craven has spent most of his life as a schoolteacher, in the fields of math and music, in his hometown of Manchester, England. It turns out that he has been composing actively as well, and has had enough admirers to encourage the creation of this recording, including the Irish pianist Mary Dullea. No composer is bereft of influences, but perhaps because of the solitary nature of Craven’s compositional method, his music has a singular profile.
In his extensive and beautifully written notes, Scott McLaughlin describes Craven’s methodology, with several references to John Cage, although he also credits jazz as an essential inspiration. Following both of those sources, Craven’s music is not always fully notated, allowing for unusual freedom of interpretation on the part of the performer. This flexibility is allowed on several levels, which Craven calls non-prescriptive notation. At the most extreme, or “High Order,” there is no rhythm or tempo indicated, and the notes themselves have no time value; only the pitch is indicated. Lower orders return some but not all of the traditional scoring values. This kind of wide-ranging technique allows for considerable diversity in the music itself. Much of the material is quite sparse, although it is not Minimalist 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.
Ultimately, Craven’s isolated artistic environment may have resulted in a quality of self-indulgence, giving the sense that he is writing for himself, thinking aloud in a sense, and not really concerned with public acceptance. He is a very interesting musical thinker, and there are intriguing ideas here, but not necessarily fully constructed works of music. This is a description, not coincidentally, that I apply to the bulk of John Cage’s output as well.