Also Sprach Zarathustra


Also Sprach Zarathustra
(1896)
   In the history of film music there is no more famous example of a classical piece of music translated into cinematic terms than RICHARD STRAUSS’s Also Sprach Zarathustra in STANLEY KUBRICK’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Friedrich Nietzsche, author of the original poem “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” had always felt that it might be realized someday as a musical composition. Indeed, it has subsequently been an inspiration for many composers, notably Mahler (in his Third Symphony) and Frederick Delius (in his Mass of Life). But by far the most famous example is Richard Strauss’s tone poem, which premiered in Berlin in 1896. Undaunted by the challenge of devising a piece of purely orchestral program music around a series of 80 discourses on such subjects as virtue,war, chastity, womankind, science, etc. , Strauss was attracted initially by Nietzsche’s avowed antipathy to the established church and all conventional religious dogmas. Indeed, like Nietzsche, he was particularly opposed to the creed that declares, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Kingdom of God. ” Zarathustra (or Zoroaster) was a real person, a Persian who lived in the sixth century B. C. He proclaimed that he was the prophet of Ormazd, the spirit of light and good. Nietzsche seized upon Zarathustra as a vehicle for his own ideas on the purpose and destiny of mankind. He envisioned him as a seer who periodically cut himself off from humanity, retreating to a cave for contemplation, and returning occasionally to deliver to mankind the wisdom he gained from his solitude. It is here we find Nietzsche’s famous pronouncements on the Übermensch, or Superman:“I teach you the Superman. Man is a thing to be surmounted . . . what is the ape to man? A jest or a thing of shame. So shall man be to the Superman. . . . Man is a rope stretched betwixt beast and Superman—a rope over an abyss. ” Accordingly, Strauss, who had just completed another of his famous tone poems, the rollicking Til Eulenspiegel, wrote that his musical realization would follow that evolutionary trajectory: “I mean to convey in music an idea of the evolution of the human race from its origin, through the various phases of development, religious as well as scientific, up to Nietzsche’s idea of the Übermensch. ”The famous opening three-note motto in first section— marked Von den Hinterweltlern (“Of the Backworldsmen”)— is intended to symbolize a spectacular sunrise, the dawn of man, as it were. It is in the pure and simple tonality of C-major—rising from a tonic C to a G and then concluding with a C an octave above. It is declaimed three times by four trumpets in unison and leads to a tutti enunciation of the major and minor modes in alternation. This vacillation between the major and minor suggests man’s perplexity at the sublime mysteries of nature. The majestic climax comes upon the heels of timpani triplets and a thundering organ pedal point that holds on by itself for a full two beats after the orchestra has ceased. Purportedly, Stanley Kubrick became aware of this music when it was used for a BBC series about World War I, and he immediately saw its application to 2001:A Space Odyssey. He toyed with using it while in the preliminary stages of devising the music track. But it was not until composer ALEX NORTH had written 40 minutes of original music (including his own Strauss-like fanfare), that he decided to retain the Zarathustra music for the film and repeat it as a theme that links the three sections of the film. Doubtless more people heard this music by Strauss during the first run of 2001 than had heard it in all of Strauss’s lifetime. Today, many film enthusiasts know it only as the “Theme from 2001.
   References
   ■ Del Mar, Norman, Richard Strauss: A Critical Commentary on His Life and Works, vol. 1 (London: Barrie and Jenkins, Ltd. , 1978).
   J. C. T.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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