Work on the first symphony began the same time as the String Quartet No. 1, although the latter was completed a year earlier than the symphony; it is scored for an orchestra of triple woodwinds and brass, along with a full complement of strings. The large number of motivic and contour relationships throughout the work makes it a remarkable achievement on many counts—a fact made even more impressive when one realizes that the symphony is, for all intent and purposes, Kokkonen's first extended composition for a full orchestra (the only large ensemble works that predate the symphony are the 1957 Music for String Orchestra and the orchestral song cycle The Hades of the Birds).