Strauss, Richard


Strauss, Richard
(1864–1949)
   The German composer of tone poems and operas Richard Strauss was born in Munich on June 11, 1869. He was first known as a conductor in the concert hall and then as a composer of several symphonic poems, such as Don Juan (1889), and finally for such operas as Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Rose, 1911). Don Juan was his first widely appreciated work; by 1900 he had written seven distinguished tone poems, including ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA (Thus Spake Zarathustra, 1886).
   Strauss never understood politics and was uninterested in World War I because it did not touch him personally. As a renowned German composer, he refused to allow his name to be associated with propaganda during the war; in fact, he considered the war to be an interruption of his career as a composer and conductor in the opera house. His reputation as a composer declined after World War I, but he continued to be esteemed as a conductor.
   With the rise of Hitler in 1933, he was appointed president of the Reichsmusikekammer (Chamber of State Music), which he accepted because he felt that, with the Nazis, he could exercise a positive influence on behalf of musicians. As the essay on Strauss in Our Times, a history text, points out, “Just before World War II, the aging composer—politically naive, iso- Johann Strauss Jr. (John C. Tibbetts) lated in his music—was prey for the Nazis, who made him director of the state music bureau. ” In 1935 he wrote a letter to his librettist, Stefan Zweig; he praised Zweig, a Jew, at the expense of the Nazis, who held him in contempt because of his race. The letter was intercepted by the Nazis. Zweig escaped to South America, but Strauss stayed on in Germany—only to be forced to resign the presidency of the music bureau, and prohibited from conducting in Germany. He was, however, permitted to conduct his “Olympic Hymn” at the opening of the Olympic Games in Berlin in July 1936. Strauss spent World War II living in Vienna with his family; because of his fall from grace, he wrote an obsequious letter to Hitler in order to protect them. After the war, he was exonerated by the Allies’ denazification tribunal, and he went into exile in Switzerland. He conducted a festival of his music in London in 1947, where he was always appreciated, and returned in 1949 to Germany, where he died in Bavaria that same year.
   Strauss was a masterful orchestrator, which is patent in his tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra, which STANLEY KUBRICK used in 2000: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), his epic science fiction film. In 2001 Kubrick was the first film director to punctuate an entire picture with previously written music, instead of using a score especially composed for the film—as he had originally intended to do.
   During the long months of production, the director had relied on “temporary” music tracks of classical music to provide the proper atmosphere for the scenes he was working on. When it came time to replace the prerecorded music with the original background music provided by veteran cinema composer ALEX NORTH, however, Kubrick decided to stick with the selections that he had already gotten accustomed to working with. The popularity of the recording of the sound track music from 2001 makes it clear that the music Kubrick chose also caught the imagination of filmgoers. Indeed, Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra in particular has become as closely associated with 2001 as has the “Colonel Bogey March” with The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) or Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” with the Lone Ranger.
   The opening image in 2001, before the credits, shows the Earth, Moon, and Sun in vertical alignment with a black monolith below them. This shot is accompanied by the crashing opening chords of Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. This symmetrical arrangement of a group of heavenly bodies with respect to a black monolith often occurs in the film, along with the Strauss music, when humankind is about to make a further evolutionary leap forward. Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th-century philosopher, wrote a narrative fable called Also Sprach Zarathustra, which inspired Strauss’s symphonic poem of the same name. In Nietzsche’s fable, a sixthcentury Persian philosopher named Zoroaster (Zarathustra, in German) serves as a mouthpiece for Nietzsche: he propounds Nietzsche’s theory of the superman—a heroic, life-affirming figure who aspires to greatness. In the course of his treatise, Nietzsche reflects, “The distance between the ape and man is not so great as that between man and the superman. ” This remark is associated with the first episode in 2001. The opening tableau described above is followed, after the credits, by the prologue, “The Dawn of Man. ”The sunrise that fills the wide screen is a metaphor for the dawn of civilization, as prehistoric ape-men of the Pleistocene epoch begin to appear and prance about.
   One morning, they find a huge black monolith standing in a nearby clearing. Moonwatcher (so named in the script,but never referred to by that name in the film), one of the ape-men, touches it tentatively. The three heavenly bodies align above the monolith. Shortly thereafter, Moonwatcher grasps a bone which he senses can be put to use as a tool-weapon to kill other animals for food. As he picks up the bone and hits the ground with it, Strauss’s fanfare from Zarathustra reverberates on the soundtrack, signaling that the ape-man has taken a step toward humanness. After subsequently killing an enemy with his tool-weapon, Moonwatcher sends the bone flying upward; as it spins, there is a cut to an orbiting spaceship. There is a direct connection between the opening stanzas of Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra and the early scenes of Kubrick’s film, states David Wishart: “Strauss’s tone poem commences as does 2001, with a sunrise—and the concept of a new dawn informs Kubrick’s treatise; the film pivots on a series of dawnings, of new beginnings, of fresh enlightenments. ” Moreover, Strauss’s opening motif, an ascending series of three notes (C-G-C), is known as the “World Riddle” theme, an especially appropriate introduction “for a labyrinthine film infused with mystery and enigma. ” The opening chords of Also Sprach Zarathustra resonate on the sound track for the last time at the close of the movie, as the fetus of “a Star Child, a superhuman, if you like,” Kubrick told Gene Phillips, “returning to Earth prepared for the next step forward in the evolutionary destiny. ”We last see the Star Child floating through space, staring out at us, a look of wide-eyed expectation on its face. Michel Ciment affirms, “2001 postulates the same progression as in Nietzsche’s works from ape to man, then from man to superman. ” Indeed, the film portrays Nietzsche’s axiom that the distance between the ape and man is not as great as that between man and superman.
   Reference
   ■ Ciment, Michel, Kubrick, trans. Gilbert Adair (New York: Faber and Faber, 2001);
   ■ Glennon, Lorraine, and John Garraty, eds. , Our Times: The History of the Twentieth Century (Atlanta: Turner, 1995);
   ■ Phillips, Gene, Stanley Kubrick: A Film Odyssey (New York: Popular Library, 1977);
   ■ Wishart, David, Music from the Films of Stanley Kubrick, CD liner notes (New York: Silva Screen Records, 1999).

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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