Henning Kraggerud - dedicatee of Seabourne's Møte's

Then - for solo viola - 2021
duration 5 minutes

Then - was commissioned by Andrea Nikolić. Composed in the immediate aftermath of the death of my wife, Marcelle, it is, in essence, a sort of obsessive nightmare based on ideas drawn from I felt a Funeral, in my Brain by my favourite poet, Emily Dickinson - one of a number of works inspired by her quirky, idiosyncratic, intensely observant output.

The piece reflects the poem's unrelenting sense of doom, approaching yet simultaneously already present - something "treading - treading" - "like a drum". We are at a funeral, but this is inside the poet's brain - it is her mind or reason that has died - she is at her own living funeral. The nightmare ritual is unstoppable, surreal and overwhelming. Eventually something snaps underfoot - there is a crisis - and the poet plunges down in freefall before hitting the "World". At that moment, highly ambiguously, the poet "Finished knowing" - whether she completely lost reason, perhaps died, or the exact opposite, through falling found enlightenment or escape, is unclear and unresolved. Perhaps it is even somehow both!. A further paradox immediately follows with the final word "then – ". Does something happen, or was this the moment of understanding? Does the madness resume, or does she escape? The questions hang in the air.

Reflecting these ideas my piece features an insistent drumming, played "col legno" (with the wood of the bow). It marches sinisterly, rather in the manner of Mars from Holst's The Planets, but with a certain rhythmic awkwardness. Around this is built a tapestry of pizzicato and acro melodic fragments that, combined, provide a kaleidoscopic, multi-timbral musical line, in some obscure way almost a folk melody. At the end of each stanza the music attempts to break free in florid mini-cadenzas, reflecting the soul's cries of desperation. But they only succeed in heightening further the general sense of terror. A climax is reached with the danger very close, the dissonance heavy and grinding. The music struggles upwards, lark-like, desperate to escape but, as suddenly, tumbles back down into a shadowy world, and there... there... is the drum... quietly ticking... "Then Space – began to toll". A bell is briefly suggested by harmonics. A timid ghost of the fall reveals an enigmatic pizzicato chord, the work's concluding question mark.

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading - treading - till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through -

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum -
Kept beating - beating - till I thought
My mind was going numb -

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space - began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here -

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down -
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing - then -

[Emily Dickinson]

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