The Music Of 2001: A Space Odyssey

The highly regarded piece of cinema titled 2001: A Space Odyssey is a highly celebrated masterwork of the late auteur director Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick was known for his incredible direction and his ability to tackle taboo subjects as well as abstract topics, this science fiction outing was quite different however as its subject matter was both aspirational and cryptic at the same time. With concepts of creation, deities and of course space exploration, Kubrick made a film that captured the minds of audiences far and wide, but some of the most iconic scenes wouldn’t be the same without its incredible orchestral soundtrack.

Beginning with Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss and performed by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the opening to the film which moves in from the silent blackness of space quickly shifts tone into the impressive horns of the song. The music is unforgettable especially when put to the shots of an entire planet in silhouette as the sun peaks out from behind. The marrying of visuals with powerful music is what Kubrick did so flawlessly throughout the film and this remains a terrific opening, the power and pace of this composition reflecting immeasurable scale and importance.

From here the music is used to add a sense of terror instead. As the enigmatic monolith appears on screen and the underdeveloped apes come in contact with it Kubrick uses György Ligeti’s Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, 2 Mixed Choirs and Orchestra. This spine chilling chaotic mix of overlapping shuddering vocals sounds like an audible example of fear. As the strings and shocking horns move in behind it, the tension grows and you can’t help but feel on edge. The sounds here simulate a buzzing hornets nest, and the screams of thousands seeping through a cave. It really is one of the last things you would want to hear when entering a dark house.

Out of the horror comes the joyful Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss II. This memorable and fantastically fun number is used to show the delicate dance that happens in low gravity. As we see space ships turning in time with the music just as dancers would on the dance floor and cosmonauts floating on air a sense of delight is returned. Somehow this beautifully complex track manages to illustrate both the magical quality of life in space and the very functional flow of practical processes, such as long journeys and docking crafts.

circa 1868: Johann Strauss ‘the younger’ (1825 – 1899), violinist, conductor and composer, famous for his waltzes which numbered over 400. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Gayane Ballet Suite makes another impressive scene where we see a pilot jogging around the cyclical room on his own far richer. Here the bleak wonder of space is emphasised by the lonely melody of the strings and the absence of much of the orchestra. Its sorrowful tone really turns the visuals from a perceived workout to a focus on isolation in the most graceful way possible. Its no doubt that this inspiring film just wouldn’t have had the same impact without the assistance of the orchestrated soundtrack that used the collected talent of several stellar composers. As a result trying to visualize outer space in music has arguably never been bested.

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