for 10 instruments (fl. / cl. / bass cl. / bsn. / tp. / trb. / piano / harp / vl. / vc.)
KONTRA-PUNKTE was written during Stockhausen's first "phase" of compositional style, where he was interested in exploring post-12-tone serial techniques in order to break from classical concepts of musical form, such as themes, motives, development, variation, modulation, etc... During this period some composers were moving away from the Romantic form of establishing a theme and then developing it through variation, modulation and atomization (already brought to its ultimate state by Beethoven, really). Instead, the idea was to have no melodic theme, but use the compositional technique itself as the theme, or main focal point (continual transformation in this case).
"Not the same figures in changing light, but different figures in the same light" (Stockhausen 1962).
In fact Stockhausen was even breaking from 20th Century serial music concepts by abandoning techniques like using inversion ("mirroring") and retrograde ("reverse") tone rows. By concentrating on continual transformation (which would have no beginning and no ending, just movement towards either chaos or entropy), chaotic "point music" of 10 different instruments (as 6 timbre groups) slowly (but irregularly) becomes a single, relatively homogenous, piano gesture. The transformation is also driven by a process of substituting single notes of different durations with groups of notes (in chord clusters or short and fast ornamental passages). This is why Stockhausen calls the piece "counter-points" - the points of notes are consumed by groups of notes (and timbre).
Musical attributes which Stockhausen uses to effect this continual transformation are:
- Timbre (instruments) - Instruments drop out 1 by one (tpt, tbn, bsn, vl, bass cl, harp, cl, vc, fl)
- Duration - wide variation in note lengths become 16th notes (with small variations)
- Dynamic (loudness) - Large dynamic variations (sfz - ppp) gradually become soft (pp)
- flute & bassoon
- clarinet & bass clarinet
- trumpet & trombone
- piano (left & right hand)
- harp (left & right hand)
- violin & cello
The general sequence in KONTRA-PUNKTE ends up as groups of notes alternating with points of notes, while instruments drop out one by one until only a piano solo remains.
Narrative of events (based partly on Stockhausen DVD lecture):
(CD times based on Stockhausen Edition CD 4)
|0:18||8-14||2 and 3 note groups become collected by colors starting w (fl, cl, tb).|
|0:42||23||More groups played by individual instruments (fl, cl).|
|1:15||37-53||Groups begin overlapping each other.|
|1:46||64-74||Tutti chord cluster and Piano explosion.|
|2:24||88||Swarms of notes are dispersed among the instrumental groups (fast color changes).|
|2:28||90||Trumpet drops out.|
|2:31||91-96||Long groups with connected notes (winds).|
|3:03||115-130||Stepwise dynamic changes in group notes.|
|Groups of staccato notes separated by pauses, also stepwise dynamic changes.|
|4:54||183-188||Long groups (winds) accented by other instruments.|
|5:52||217||Trombone drops out.|
|6:32||245||Bassoon drops out.|
|7:35||282-319||Violin & Cello duet.|
|8:50||324-400||Piano groups accented by other instruments.|
|9:08||(333)||Violin drops out.|
|10:42||(394)||Bass Clarinet drops out.|
|11:55||438||Harp drops out.|
|12:21||454||Clarinet drops out.|
|12:50||477||Cello drops out.|
|13:38||509||Flute drops out.|
These time divisions are reflected in the waveform at the top of this post.
|Bar 64 - Piano Explosion|
|Bar 88 - Swarms of Notes|
|Ending measures - The flute drops out leaving only the piano.|
(Score pages © Universal Edition)
|Strings and Brass on the left, Winds (low to high) on the right, piano center, harp left. |
KONTRA-PUNKTE was one of the first things I ever heard by Stockhausen and I loved it immediately. It's still one of his "spikiest" works and one his most vibrant. It can be difficult to follow at first, since there are 10 instrumental lines all playing (seemingly) completely independently and non-metrically, but one way in to the piece may be to just follow the piano part and consider the remainder of the instruments as supporting winds and strings. After awhile the 7 textures as duo groups becomes clearer.
One thing that's interesting is that while KONTRA-PUNKTE reduces its instrumental timbres, it seemingly increases in intensity . That's the exact opposite of what usually happens in most classical works (such as Ravel's Bolero for example, where increasing the instrumental forces makes it more feverish). It's not until near the end of the piece that one notices so many musicians have left the stage, which makes for an interesting aural illusion.
I try to avoid too much programmatic analysis, but it almost feels like the piano player is portrayed as a boisterous element amongst a communal group, and each of the other instruments "gives up" one by one and leaves. The departure of the violin is particularly "personal".
KONTRA-PUNKTE (CD 4) samples, tracks listings and CD ordering
Buy the Score
Stockhausen Lecture (1972) on KONTRA-PUNKTE Pt 1
Stockhausen's Lecture on KONTRA-PUNKTE DVD (PDF)
Video clips from Kontra-Punkte rehearsals and performance, (Stockhausen conducts Ensemble Modern, Frankfurt, August 1992)