We’ve not heard of Craven, but apparently he was a teacher who taught music and mathematics in secondary schools in Manchester. He has composed music since his teens, but rarely performed or published until recently. 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 CD 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.
Musically, it’s obviously just Dullea and piano. Craven designs his music to incorporate chance (aleatorism is the posh word), optional phrasing, improvisation and open interpretation. 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.
His low order non-prescription music has pitches and rhythm written out but no tempo or phrasing; the higher order non-prescription music is only a stream of notes and chords. (there are extensive sleeve notes about this).
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.