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The Unanswered Question
Charles Ives Lyrics

We have lyrics for these tracks by Charles Ives:

West London Crouch′d on the pavement, Close by Belgrave Square. A tramp!…

The lyrics can frequently be found in the comments below or by filtering for lyric videos.
Most interesting comment from YouTube:

Joaquín Sterman

Words by Charles Ives:


The parts of the flute quartet may be taken by two flutes, upper staff, oboe and clarinet, lower staff. The trumpet part may be played by an English horn, an oboe or clarinet, if not playing in "The Answers." The string quartet or string orchestra (con sordini), if possible, should be "off stage", or away from the trumpet and flutes. The trumpet should use a mute unless playing in a very large room, or with a larger string orchestra. If more than four strings, a basso may play with the 'cellos (8va basso). The strings play ppp throughout with no change in tempo. They are to represent "The Silences of the Druids - Who Know, See and Hear Nothing." The trumpet intones "The Perennial Question of Existence", and states it in the same tone of voice each time. But the hunt for "The Invisible Answer" undertaken by the flutes and other human beings, becomes gradually more active, faster and louder through an animando to a con fuoco. This part need not be played in the exact time position indicated. It is played in somewhat of an impromptu way; if there be no conductor, one of the flute players may direct their playing. "The Fighting Answerers", as the time goes on, and after a "secret con- ference", seem to realize a futility, and begin to mock "The Question" - the strife is over for the moment. After they disappear, "The Question" is asked for the last time, and "The Silences" are heard beyond in "Undisturbed Solitude." The flutes will end their part approximately near the position indicated in the string score; but in any case, "The Last Question" should not be played by the trumpet until "The Silences" of the strings in the distance have been heard for a measure or two. The strings will continue their last chord for two measures or so after the trumpet stops. If the strings shall have reached their last chord before the trumpet plays "The Last Question", they will hold it through an continue after, as suggested above. During some of the louder passages of the flutes, the strings may not be heard, and it is not important that they should be. "The Answers" may be played somewhat sooner after each "Question" than indicated in the score, but "The Question" should be played no sooner for that reason. If a large string orchestra is playing, the full treble woodwind choir may be used at the discretion of the conductor, but in any case, only one trumpet plays.

C. E. I."


All comments from YouTube:


In my ear training class, our teacher showed us this song while we were studying chromatic/ Atonal harmony/melody.
He told us: the (tonal) stings represent silence(the silence of the universe perhaps), especially because they lack dominant harmony. The solo (semi-tonal) trumpet represents the question(what is the meaning of life?) and its dominant/ diminished melody represents that the question is loud within the silence. The (Atonal) flutes represent the experts, trying to answer the question, getting more and more frustrated and descending into chaos.
The whole concepts is GENIUS honestly

Grandmaster Blowhole

@JW It's certainly unnecessary unless you care about whether you mind looking ill-informed or not. I think he was trying to help.

In my humble opinion, 12-TET is lame.

@Cassiano Wogel Wow. Just, wow. Admirable.

Cassiano Wogel

You know what's funny, the comments above by the people who are so desperate to point out that "it's not a song" are actually a very good example of the "experts trying to answer the question, getting more and more frustrated and descending into chaos". Gosh I love this "meta" thing! Excellent piece of information, thank you very much.

Jordan Smith

@JW I know what you meant and I agree


@Jordan Smith my point wasnt that it wasnt a piece, i agree technically people will call this a piece. Its unnecessary because correcting that part of my statement doesnt change anything about the intention of what i wrote nor the effective message

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Some years ago, my father introduced me to this fantastic piece of music . Now he has been diagnosed with Creutzfeldt Jakob a very lethal and sporadic type of dementia. He has become delusional, completely aphasic at times. Yesterday, in another bittersweet moment, we sat on a nearby park, watching the kids play and i questioned him "¿is there any meaning to this?" He just smiled and kept silent. This song just came to my mind.

Eli Kidd

This story just gave me chills. Thanks for sharing your experience with music. Very inspiring!


@Comet 333 Not you. I bet you never ask any questions. I bet you know every fucking thing in the world, dickhead.


@Comet 333 dont read then 😉

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