The Unanswered Question

Categories: 900 storico
Comments: 1 Comment
Published on: 21 October 2009

The Unanswered Question is a work by American composer Charles Ives. It was originally the first of “Two Contemplations” composed in 1906, paired with another piece called Central Park in the Dark. As with many of Ives’ works, it was largely unknown until much later in his life, being first published in 1940. Today the two pieces are commonly treated as distinct works, and may be performed either separately or together.

The full title Ives originally gave the piece was “A Contemplation of a Serious Matter” or “The Unanswered Perennial Question”. The Ives’ original idea was the two pieces create a sort of contrast. The original title of the other was “A Contemplation of Nothing Serious, or Central Park in the Dark in the Good Old Summertime”.

His biographer Jan Swafford called The Unanswered Question “a kind of collage in three distinct layers, roughly coordinated.” The three layers involve the scoring for a string quartet, woodwind quartet, and solo trumpet. Each layer has its own tempo and key. Ives himself described the work as a “cosmic landscape” in which the strings represent “the Silences of the Druids-who Know, See and Hear Nothing.” The trumpet then asks “The Perennial Question of Existence” and the woodwinds seek “The Invisible Answer”, but abandon it in frustration, so that ultimately the question is answered only by the “Silences”.

Leonard Bernstein added in his 1973 Norton lecture which borrowed its title from the Ives work that the woodwinds are said to represent our human answers growing increasingly impatient and desperate, until they lose their meaning entirely. Meanwhile, right from the very beginning, the strings have been playing their own separate music, infinitely soft and slow and sustained, never changing, never growing louder or faster, never being affected in any way by that strange question-and-answer dialogue of the trumpet and the woodwinds. Bernstein also talks about how the strings are playing tonal triads against the trumpet’s non tonal phrase. In the end, when the trumpet asks the question for the last time, the strings “are quietly prolonging their pure G-major triad into eternity”.

[most from wikipedia]

A mio avviso, The Unanswered Question è uno dei brani più importanti e innovativi del ‘900 storico. E questo non per la “strana” melodia della tromba, né per la polifonia sempre più dissonante dei legni e nemmeno per l’immobilità glaciale degli archi, tutti gesti già conosciuti in Europa, ma per il fatto che questi tre elementi stanno insieme, l’uno accostato all’altro eppure si ignorano.

1 Comment
  1. Leonardo says:

    sono pienamente d’accordo.e’ un pezzo molto espressivo,ed una bella esecuzione di Leonard Bernstein.

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