The Unanswered Question Analysis

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“The Unanswered Question” by Charles Ives is a six-minute piece of program music that seeks to describe the interaction of a human attempting to ask the universe the crucial question of perennial existence. It is a carefully crafted piece that when played correctly according to Ives directions, beautifully encapsulates the human struggle of understanding existence. The piece begins with strings playing at a slow tempo and low amplitude. Ives instructs that these strings are set to represent silent Druids who “see, hear and know nothing”, and are to be played offstage if possible, with the other members of the on stage band to simply sit motionless as they play. This provides the strings with a mystic allure, as the audience does not know where they are coming from. Soon after the strings play, a horn seemingly interrupts them at the 1:35 mark. It plays a five note dissonant motive that represents “the perennial question of existence” and clearly does not fit in as the strings seemingly float through the piece unaware, much like the druids would. The horn continues to play the motive intermittently as other instruments chime in, which Ives says are other human beings searching for what he calls the “Invisible Answer”. These other instruments become much louder as the search for this answer continues along with the motive which increases in…show more content…
The composition mainly utilized changes in amplitude and the timbre of the horns interacting with the woodwinds and strings in order to really create the mystical and deeply philosophic atmosphere of the work. Overall the piece is packed with symbolism and Ives expertly utilizes musical composition as well as performance instruction in order to tell a deep and moving narrative of the quest of human understanding of our own
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