Movie Music Moment: 2001: A Space Odyssey ("Also Sprach Zarathusa")

In this segment I will consider a single piece of music (whether a utilized licensed song or a track from an original soundtrack) in a single film, how it is used and its effect therein. I collect and treasure movie soundtracks. The majority of the music I listen to comes from them and I feel they are the quintessential way to relive your memories of a film without actually watching it. Of all the arts, music may be the most powerful in its capability to quickly alter one's mood/emotions. In my tome of film theory, generally speaking, the sound of music is only second to the image itself. Without its influence many memorable sequences would merely flicker instead of blazing before audiences.


"Also Sprach Zarathusa" by Richard Strauss

as seen/heard in

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)


I know, not a subtle or even a unique choice, but I wanted to start this series with a bang and so I went to the cinematic essentials and picked the most memorable musical moment (from a film with as a grand a soundtrack as they come) from Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

2001 is divided into some four sections, the first of which is referred to as "The Dawn of Man." The unconventional narrative begins as we observe the everyday goings-on of a tribe of ape-likes. The film is notably absent of music for most of this time. The inexplicable appearance of a jet-black monolith comes with an eerie howl of angry angels, clearly making an impression on the early hominids. In the following scene we focus on one in particular as he absent-mindedly plays with the bones of a naturally deceased tapir  The ape then takes one of these ribs in paw and a spark ignites the potential within him as the "Also Sprach Zarathusa," a track that sneaks up on you (chances are once you notice the short piece it has already been going for a moment), progresses rather naturally. It plateaus with the iconic pounding of timpani, building to something monumental. The song effectively evolves into its full potential and then erupts in a triumphal climax while the onscreen humanoid discovers and uses "man's" first tool. Shortly after this scene the same bone is thrown into the air which match-cuts to a spaceship, the biggest leap forward in time film has ever known. We then watch a literal space-station ballet set to "The Blue Danube," but that's another piece of music for another Movie Music Moment...

"Also Sprach Zarathusa" has been used quite memorably in other films, including two personal favorites: Magnolia and Wall-E, both references to 2001. It may be quite sometime before I dissect its use in these as there is a lot more music in a lot more movies to share.

What did you think of this Movie Music Moment? Do you recall this sequence from 2001? If you haven't seen the film (you must) I invite you to at least watch the clip above. Please feel free to share some of your own favorite Movie Music Moments and look for another installment next week.