Charles Ives
The Unanswered Question, for orchestra



by ShakerFaker USER (32 Reviews)
October 20th, 2015 | 6 replies

Release Date: 1935 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Definitely not chill, but definitely chilling.

Charles Ives was perhaps the Modernist composer. He was both American - blending European classical tradition with church-y, folksy, and distinctly patriotic sounds of his childhood that imbued his music with that bombastic American flair, and a pioneer - he maintained a proclivity for experimentation throughout his prolific career. Eccentricities in his compositions often suggest his feelings on humans in relation to the cosmos. To Ives, if we had the answers, we would stay complacent, completely satisfied with dull living. However, if we obsessed over the questions, the cosmos would grow as new complexities emerged, thus inspiring new exploration, making the journey never-ending. His music frequently exuded this kind of spirituality, and frequently tackled such questions.

The Unanswered Question, originally composed in 1908, but reworked in the early- to mid-1930s, is Ives' musical conception of this idea. The working elements of this composition - the strings, trumpet, and woodwinds - are couched in soundscapes extraterrestrial. The composition starts with the strings - haunting and almost too quiet to hear, which fuel the composition, timing it and retaining equilibrium against the madness that eventually ensues. At 90 seconds, the first atonal trumpet melody appears, tepidly asking the (unanswered) question: what is the meaning of life? The woodwinds respond just as tepidly, initially un-bothered, but when the trumpet asks again, over and over, with increasing frequency, the woodwinds get agitated and angry, eventually reaching new heights of aggravation. Meanwhile, the trumpet calmly repeats its melody amidst the chaos, still seeking the answer to the question. The woodwinds, however, defeated and annoyed, retreat back to where they came from.

Ives combined message and music to great effect in The Unanswered Question. The dichotomy between the questioning trumpet and the answering woodwinds, which conceptually clash, also contrast musically: mellow but steadfast trumpet versus easily riled but ultimately weak-kneed woodwinds. Similarly, the atonal phrasing of the trumpet contradicts the string-based chords, which persist resolutely. Start to finish, they are the only unaffected element, acting as the cosmos in which the trumpet wades, always trying to find meaning; always trying to answer the question.

New York Philharmonic:

Recent reviews by this author
Giuseppe Tartini "Devil's Trill Sonata" Violin Sonata in G minorLubomyr Melnyk Illirion
Richard Strauss Tone Poem: Also sprach ZarathustraEsperanza Spalding Emily's D+Evolution
Kanye West The Life of PabloSofia Gubaidulina Repentance
user ratings (18)

Comments:Add a Comment 
October 21st 2015


Sputnik needs more of your reviews. That was a joy to read.

October 21st 2015


Album Rating: 5.0

Thank you.

October 21st 2015


Album Rating: 5.0

Thank you.

October 21st 2015


So random and magical that something like this glean get a review in 2015

October 21st 2015


Yup, this is a 5. I love this song.

September 1st 2017


Wow can't believe this has a review. Likely my favorite work by Ives

You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile


Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Site Copyright 2005-2023
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy