During our first interview with Sebastian, there were a few memorable moments that I wanted to use in this piece. One was when he said that he had recently been “aggressively seeking a purpose.” Not only that, but he is interested even in the sound of the word “aggressive”, saying that “phonetically, there’s something really interesting about words that repeat a consonant.” So, I started thinking about how to represent that idea musically.
Another idea that came through in our interactions is that Sebastian is often operating out of one of two emotions: disappointment and gratitude. He speaks of what he has not been able to do in life (“I haven’t built my parents a home, or anything significant in my home country”), and adds that “You become more grateful than disappointed. All of a sudden, it just becomes more about the right to breathe...my gratitude has surpassed my disappointment at this point.”
I wanted to use these two ideas when writing. The first being that Sebastian is aggressively seeking a purpose, and the second being that he experiences such deep disappointment and gratitude.
The piece opens with a euphonium playing a minor third between D and B. I wanted to establish, right from the first moment, two tonal centers between these two notes (disappointment and gratitude, as it were). I also chose to use brass often in this piece because it can have an aggressive sound. The main theme is then introduced by the cello. The theme is intentionally unclear and refuses to settle on either tonal center. This, to me, represents seeking a purpose. That process is never cut and dry. It is not always clear. It nearly never takes a predictable path. Purpose is something we wrestle with and actively seek (and sometimes accidentally find). This idea comes back throughout the piece.
I struggled mightily with this musical theme (maybe there is a parallel to be drawn there). While I enjoy the melody, the lack of resolution is unsettling and I found it difficult to keep from instinctively going the dark route with it and turning it into a melancholy dirge. One of the things that helped in that respect was to write strong countermelodies that could brighten the mood. The first of these comes in at 1:08 in the strings. The piece has a 6/8 time signature, and I love using consecutive dotted eighth notes in that meter. It seems to give the countermelody a bold feel. This works well with Sebastian’s continual striving for artistic integrity in his own work, also; that bold rhythm sounded integral to me.
At 1:34 the brass come to the forefront, again a nod to “aggressively seeking a purpose”. But this time they have a descending line that leads into a more reflective, subdued moment. Sebastian is deeply reflective and I wanted to recognize that admirable quality. One of my absolute favorite musicians says, “Life without revision will silence our souls.” Sebastian demonstrates that revision continually.
The idea of aggression becomes more obvious later in the piece as the percussion builds and the tempo increases. During one of our interviews, Sebastian talked about artistic integrity, how difficult that is to achieve within stringent constraints, and his own trend of getting more risky in his designs. When asked who or what the enemy of that is, his answer was clear: time. So in this section, I wanted to build a sense of rushing, make the listener feel slightly anxious, and make time the enemy.
The piece ends by restating the original theme as a duet played by the cello and the viola. The final chord is intentionally dark. This is possibly my favorite moment in the piece. In general, I believe that music expresses what words cannot, and this is a perfect example of that. It is not meant to concretely represent anything, nor is it meant to convey a specific emotion. It simply came as a result of my having steeped in this material for months.