Live the Questions


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The Story

Live the Questions (2016) is based on a selection from Letters to a Young Poet (1929), a series of ten letters written by the Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Rilke to Franz Kappus, who published them three years after Rilke’s death. Kappus was a 19-year-old cadet in the Austrian army seeking the established poet’s advice on the quality of his writing and on whether to pursue a military or a literary career. Rilke encouraged Kappus to trust his own judgment and to be patient in the midst of uncertainty. “There’s so much life wisdom in them,” Runestad says of the letters. “It’s just a stunning collection.”

The choice of a text written by a mentor to a student was particularly appropriate for this piece, as Robert Bode, the conductor of the commissioning ensemble Choral Arts Northwest, mentored a friend of the composer’s, and in turn became one of Runestad’s early champions. The composer translated the text used in the piece, in which Rilke gently counsels his young reader not to seek the answers to life’s questions from others, but rather to “live the questions now.” The music reflects both the open-endedness of life’s biggest questions and the experiences that answer them (or not), wandering harmonically through many different key centers, led by melodic lines that transport listeners from one musical moment to another.

Program note by Leah G. Weinberg, PhD. Please credit this author with any reproductions of this note.

SATB with divisi, unaccompanied




Choral Arts Northwest. Robert Bode, conductor.


May 14, 2016. Seattle, WA.



From Rainer Rilke’s letter to Franz Kappus on July 16, 1903.
Translated from the original German by Jake Runestad.

Have patience with all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions like locked rooms or books written in a foreign tongue. Do not search for the answers now, for they cannot be given to you; you would not be able to live them. The point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday in the future, without noticing it, you will live your way into the answer.


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