A guide to Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra

We introduce you to the Strauss classic, Also sprach Zarathustra, that forms part of the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

Published: March 1, 2019 at 10:00 am

A swirling bone that transforms into a communication satellite, the docking with the space station, the Earth in shadow against a sliver of the sun and the appearance of the ‘star child’ all remain indelible images from Stanley Kubrick’s epic film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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The choice of music – Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna, Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube, Khachaturian’s Gayaneh and, of course, Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra – is a further masterstroke.

An organ pedal note precedes the most imposing sunrise in orchestral music. Trumpets and pounding timpani announce the dawn motif, culminating in a blazing C major climax for full orchestra. After such an introduction where is there left to go?

Richard Strauss considered it his most important work to date – ‘the most perfect in form, the richest in content and the most individual in character’. However, despite its clever scoring, what follows ultimately fails to satisfy the expectations raised by that dawn sequence. This, Richard Strauss’s homage to Nietzsche, is memorable mostly for its opening. But then, what an opening!

Essential recording:

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan

DG 447 4412

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Authors

Freya ParrDigital Editor and Staff Writer, BBC Music Magazine

Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.

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