Tranquillo by Chris Lowry

October 4, 2016  |   Posted In

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By Chris Lowry

The main theme to this piece initially came to me during the summer of 2006 as I was improvising on my viola during a practice session. As was the custom for me, I wrote the melody down on a sheet of manuscript paper and put it in a pile of “melodic sketches” on the floor, not really anticipating doing anything special with it. Later that night, the melody was constantly stuck in my head, so I started composing a piece, originally intending to write it for orchestra. I soon abandoned the project, as I had to focus on finishing editing my piece Celebration Overture for its upcoming premiere with the Curb Youth Symphony that December. The next semester, I decided I wanted to compose an original piece to perform on my senior viola recital in May. After brainstorming for a while, the theme to Tranquillo came to mind, and I decided to finish the piece in a chamber setting (two violins, two violas, cello, piano, and two off-stage rainsticks; I have since rearranged it to include a double bass part). I didn’t finish the piece until about a week before my recital, but I still managed to find a group of friends (including my viola professor) to perform with me. I drafted an orchestrated version of Tranquillo during the summer of 2009, but never truly finished it until the fall of 2015; the orchestral version is different enough from the original that I consider them two different works rather than two versions of the same piece.

As I was composing this piece, I incidentally had the image of myself standing at the bank of a lake feeling a cool breeze blow by. Though there is no true program behind the piece, I still associate the piece with this extramusical idea. Tranquillo is rather simple melodically and formally, essentially consisting of one main theme with little variation or deviation from it; the complexity lies within the lush harmonies and countermelodies as well as the intricately colorful orchestration. The piece begins with an ostinato in the harp under the theme, played first by the English horn, then by a lone viola, and then again with two solo violins, a viola, cello, and bass. Suspense builds as full string sections enter, and a crescendo in the percussion section leads into a fully orchestrated statement of the theme. Following is a ballad-like statement of the theme for the flutes and harp consisting only of countermelodies without the actual melody itself present. The second half of the theme is played by the oboe with syncopated harmonies underneath in the clarinets. A celesta solo followed by a flurry of winds, suspended cymbal, and harp brings the orchestra back up to a healthy forte, where the upper strings and winds sing out the melody over chords in the horns and bassoons and the whistling of the wind machine. The entrance of the timpani and low brass announces the final climactic repetition of the second half of the theme, which culminates in a cathartic chord change, accented by the wind gong and bass drum. As the distant thunder fades away, rain begins to fall, and the theme is reflected upon plaintively by the English horn, bassoon, and clarinet; the rest of the orchestra dies away, leaving only the tranquil sound of rain.

—Christopher Lowry

Duration: 6 minutes
Grade Level: 4

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Additional information

Weight .1 lbs
Dimensions 0.004 × 11 × 17 in

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