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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 December 2015


Laurence Crane's music is often described as experimental or considered as a continuation of the English experimental tradition. In this first extended examination of Crane's music it is proposed that, instead of relying upon associations and aesthetic alignments, the music might be considered as experimental through a particularly experimental approach to performance. After a brief overview of Crane's output his position as a composer is considered within the context of the experimental music tradition. This tradition is then considered in relation to performance practice, both historical and contemporary. A selection of Crane's music is examined in the light of that practice, whilst aspects of the composer's approaches to tonality, instrumentation, form and notation are also highlighted.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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I wish to thank Laurence Crane for patiently giving up his time whilst I probed him for information about his life and work. Thanks also to Anton Lukoszevieze who first introduced me to Crane's music and has facilitated my knowledge of the work through performances with Apartment House.


2 Michael Pisaro, ‘Less is Normal’ (accessed 06 July 2015); Tim Parkinson ‘Laurence Crane’ (accessed 06 July 2015); ‘Laurence Crane’ in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music, ed. James Saunders (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), p. 244.

3 Interview with the composer, 26 August 2014.

4 Benjamin Piekut, ed., Tomorrow Is The Question: New Directions in Experimental Music Studies (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014).

5 See Piekut, Benjamin, ‘Indeterminacy, Free Improvisation, and the Mixed Avant-Garde: Experimental Music in London, 1965–1975’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 67 (2014), pp. 771825CrossRefGoogle Scholar for a fascinating recent examination of English experimental music.

6 Tony Harris, The Legacy of Cornelius Cardew (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), pp. 125–48.

7 Walker, Sarah, ‘The New English Keyboard School: A Second “Golden Age”’, Leonardo Music Journal 11 (2001), p. 17CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 John Cage, ‘Experimental Music: Doctrine’, in Silence (London: Marion Boyars, 1978), p. 13.

9 Brooks, William, ‘In re: “Experimental Music”’, Contemporary Music Review 31/1 (2012), pp. 3762CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 Parsons, Michael, ‘Some aspects of an Experimental Attitude’, Contact 8 (1974), p. 21Google Scholar.

11 Michael Nyman, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond, 2nd edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

12 Walker, ‘The New English Keyboard School’, p. 17.

13 Gavin Bryars, Christopher Hobbs, Dave Smith and John White. See Virginia Anderson, ‘British Experimental Music after Nyman’, in Tomorrow Is The Question, pp. 159–79.

14 Michael Finnissy, Laurence Crane: 20th century music (Métier, msv28506, 2008).

15 Some recent works have suggested a shift from this claim, such as the waltz idea in Piano Piece No.23 ‘Ethiopian Distance Runners’, developed further in the Piano Quintet (which also includes a jolting use of vibrato on a few specific occasions), and an indication to ‘play like a Romantic piano concerto’ in Classic Stride and Glide.

16 Finnissy's recording of the piano music, op.cit., is the perfect introduction for those readers unfamiliar with Crane's music

17 Interview with the composer, 26 August 2014.

18 7–8 July 1984, Union Chapel, Islington, London.

19 19 August 1984.

20 Philip Thomas, ‘A Prescription for Action’, in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music, pp. 75–96.

21 David Tudor and John Cage interviewed by Mogens Andersen in a broadcast of Danmarks Radio on 3 June 1963. Featured on the CD David Tudor – Music for piano, ed.RZ 1018–19 (2007).

22 Wolff in Cues: Writings and Conversations (Cologne, MusikTexte, 1998), p. 54.

23 René Chalupt, cited in Hermann Danuser, ‘Rewriting the past: classicisms of the inter-war period’, in The Cambridge History of Twentieth Century Music, ed. Nicholas Cook and Anthony Pople (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 260–85.

24 Danuser, ‘Rewriting the past’.

25 Danuser, ‘Rewriting the past’, p. 269.

26 Arnold Schoenberg, Style and Idea (London: Faber and Faber, 1975), pp. 320–21, as cited and discussed in Jonathan Dunsby, Performing Music: Shared Concerns (London: Clarendon Press, 1995), pp. 52–3.

27 Tilbury referred to these as ‘displaced octaves’, in Parsons, Michael and Tilbury, John, ‘The Contemporary Pianist’, The Musical Times 110/1512 (1969), p. 150Google Scholar.

28 The perception arises perhaps because some performers of Crane's music also regularly perform music by composers and on record labels associated with Wandelweiser, such as Antoine Beuger, Michael Pisaro, Jürg Frey, and the label another timbre.

29 Fallas, John, ‘Conditions of Immediacy: Howard Skempton in Interview’, Tempo 66/262 (October 2012), p. 24CrossRefGoogle Scholar. After discussing this with Crane I returned home to find the score of Skempton's latest piano work, Oculus, which I was to premiere a few months later and which is the most ‘classical’ of all Skempton's works.

30 Fallas, ‘Conditions of Immediacy’.

31 Holzaepfel, John, ‘Reminiscences of a Twentieth-Century Pianist: An Interview with David Tudor’, The Musical Quarterly 78/3 (1994), p. 633CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

32 In Parsons, Michael, ‘Howard Skempton: Chorales, Landscapes and Melodies’, Contact 30 (1987), p. 19Google Scholar.

33 The music of Gavin Bryars, in particular, has been associated with the melancholic. See Fox, Christopher, ‘Sharp Practice: Gavin Bryars at 60’, The Musical Times 144/1884 (2003), pp. 1525CrossRefGoogle Scholar.