Composer Note: Contrasts
was composed for the Donaueschingen Festival of Contemporary Music in Germany and was dedicated to the late Heinrich Strobel, the Festival’s Director since the late 1940s. The premiere was played in 1961 by the Southwest German Radio Orchestra of Baden-Baden, conducted by Hans Rosbaud.
The work is in two large sections, or movements, each of which, though in different ways, deals with the problems of rhythmic organization. In the first movement three spatially separated woodwind quintets play at tempo speeds two and three times as fast as the basic adagio background of the strings, brass, and percussion (quarter note = 48). Thus the leading woodwind quintet plays a lively Alla breve music (half note = 96), while the second and third quintets participate in the overall rhythmic play with a slower 4/4 music (quarter note = 96). The two latter quintets are differentiated in their timbre and instrumentation in that one features high woodwinds (piccolo, Eb clarinet, etc.) while the other uses lower winds (alto flute, bass clarinet, English horn, contrabassoon, low horn). In other words, the different layers of tempo levels are also delineated timbrally.
In the second movement, the “vertical” organization of rhythm and meter gives way to a “horizontal” exploitation of polyrhythms and polymetrics. Whereas in the first movement bar lines were always coordinated (for example, the first woodwind quintet’s every four bars to the string’s one), in the second movement bar lines are frequently uncoordinated, individual players performing independently of the basic beat and of the conductor. These polymetric excursions occur primarily in the percussion section.