RICHARD STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spake Zarathustra) freely composed after Friedrich Nietzsche (1895-96)
When popular culture delves into classical music, even if it’s just a few measures of a composition, as was the case with Also sprach Zarathustra in the opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the attendees for all the live concert performances of the work pale in comparison to the number of movie goers who have heard the soundtrack of the film. 2001 immortalized Richard Strauss’s composition, inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s 1885 philosophical poem of the same name, which in turn was based on the sixth century BCE Persian prophet Zoroaster. Strauss explained, “I did not intend to write philosophical music or portray Nietzsche’s work musically. I meant rather 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 Superman.” Tone poems draw inspiration from literary or other sources, and Strauss excelled at composing them. (Never someone to be everly modest, he once said: “I want to be able to depict in music a glass of beer so accurately that every listener can tell whether it is a Pilsner or a Kulmbacher!”) Strauss’s brilliant orchestral blockbuster “depicts” the opening of Nietzsche’s book—as the prophet apostrophizes the sun—with a majestic rising fanfare—with trumpets, full orchestra, and organ—that hails the primeval sunrise. Eight more sections follow, including “Of the Back-world Dwellers,” “Of the Great Longing,” “Of Joys and Passions,” and the finale, “Night Wanderer’s Song” with a bell that ominously tolls midnight and which, in the final tranquil moments, pits two opposing keys, C and B Major, against each other in an unresolved chord that suggests the mystery of life and the universe.