The Unanswered Question -Charles Ives penned “The Unanswered Question” in 1906 for a solitary probing trumpet, four quarrelsome woodwinds and only a small complement of strings. There is something quintessentially American about the notion of addressing the meaning of existence in under five minutes. But no one has accused it of being any the less for its economy of scale, and Ives’ innovations are still with us.
Stasis is a problem for composers – like watching musical paint dry – so how to reveal timelessness? Ives devises a hushed, glacially revolving string chorale to express what he calls “the silence of the Druids”. A few years later Vaughan Williams began his Tallis “Fantasia” for strings in similar raptness. And today composers such as Adams, P.rt and Rautavaara still depict the infinite by using sustained strings.