Ives used a variety of titles for this work including:
Ives also paired this work with "Central Park in the Dark" and called the set "Two Contemplations." "The Unanswered Question " served as movement No. 1.
Along with Three Places in New England, this is Ives most popular work. It's also starkly revolutionary, especially considering its composition date (1906). Biographer Jan Swafford comments:
Ives composed the "The Unanswered Question" circa 1906. He also made revisions to the work some time around 1930-35. The revised version (also known as Version 2), became the most well known version.
The premiere performance of "The Unanswered Question" (Version 2) occurred on May 11, 1946. A chamber orchestra of graduate students at the Juilliard School performed the work. Theodore Bloomfield conducted the ensemble. The same concert featured the premieres of "Central Park in the Dark" and String Quartet No. 2.
Version 1 of the work was not premiered until March 1984, when Dennis Russell Davies and American Composers Orchestra performed it in New York City.
The first recording of this work was released in 1951. (This was Version 2.) Will Lorin and the Polymusic Chamber Orchestra performed the work on the Polymusic label. Michael Tilson Thomas and the Chicago SO made the first recording of Version 1 in 1986.