Charles IvesTwo Contemplations (Central Park in the Dark; The Unanswered Question)
US composer Charles Ives had one of the strangest careers in the history of music. He was a successful businessman by profession, and the insurance company he founded was once one of the largest in the country. In parallel with that, hidden from the public, he wrote a rather extensive and often mind-bogglingly modern body of music that was not properly discovered until he had stopped composing. Ives experimented with the most astonishing stylistic means. He is perhaps best known for his penchant for taking familiar folk tunes, hymns and marches and superimposing two or three of them, usually in different keys.
The orchestral works Central Park in the Dark and The Unanswered Question both date from 1906. Although conceived as a pair under the heading Two Contemplations, both are also performed separately. They are studies of musical space and the relationship between static and mobile situations.
Central Park in the Dark is an obviously programmatic work where the listener may imagine themselves being where the title says. The mysteriously undulating strings reflect the sounds and silences of the night, while various sounds are heard from all around: melodies played by the clarinet, flute and oboe, a piano playing the ragtime hit Hello! My Baby, and a brass band playing the Washington Post March, the various musics cascading into a chaos at the culmination.
The Unanswered Question consists of three kinds of material. There is a quiet background formed by an extremely static string texture that according to the score should be played offstage. The other two elements are the question posed seven times by the trumpet and the increasingly long and complicated answers given by the four flutes (or other woodwinds). True to the title, the trumpet’s last question remains unanswered.