“Also sprach Zarathustra,” a tone poem by Richard Strauss, was first performed in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, on this day in 1896, with the composer conducting.
For decades thereafter, it was considered one of his lesser works and only occasionally performed. Then, in 1968, Stanley Kubrick chose its opening fanfare as the main theme of his movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Suddenly “Also Sprach” jumped to the top of the classical charts and became a concert hall favorite as well— even though many of its new audiences are surprised when the piece goes on for another half hour after its spectacular opening.
Another composer who also benefited from Kubrick’s movie was the Hungarian György Ligeti. Initially, Ligeti’s fame was limited to avant-garde circles, but his 1961 composition “Atmosphères” also became part of the “2001” soundtrack and catapulted him to much wider fame. Ligeti’s eerily floating sound-clusters seemed to Kubrick perfect “outer space” music.
Ligeti himself was not happy how his music was used in the film, but, grudgingly, did express admiration for the film’s surreal final sequence. Richard Strauss died in 1949—some 20 years before Kubrick’s film debuted—but we suspect THAT hard-headed businessman would have been pleased that his music was used — and would have promptly demanded a hefty cut of Kubrick’s royalties.
Music Played in Today's Program
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)Also Sprach ZarathustraChicago Symphony; Fritz Reiner, cond.RCA/BMG 60833
György Ligeti (1923-2006)AtmospheresHollywood Bowl Orchestra; John Mauceri, cond.Philips 446 403