Richard Nisley

Thinking Really Big
Music - Classical Released - Mar 29, 2013

It was a brilliant idea, making classical music the soundtrack to “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Classical music draws our thought toward infinity. Wasn’t it Albert Einstein who said the stars we see in the heavens are merely a reflection of the mind? The world is still catching up with Einstein’s metaphysical slant on the universe, which classical music points toward.

“2001: A Space Odyssey” made a pop hit of an obscure tune by Richard Strauss. The music was “Also Sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spake Zarathustra).” We hear a couple bars in the movie while in fact the score is much longer and, like the Music of J.S Bach, demands our entire attention to really appreciate. Like all great art, Strauss’s music challenges us to expand our concept of the world and of life, and rewards us when we do.

On the list of world’s greatest composers, Richard Strauss is 20th. Among his best known pieces are several tone poems: “Death and Transfiguration,” “Ein Heldenleben,” his meditation on the horrors of World War II: “Metamorphosen,” and one of the world’s great operas: “Der Rosenkavalier.”

The other familiar piece in “2001” was “The Blue Danube Waltz” by Johann Strauss (no relation). “The Blue Danube Waltz” was already famous when Stanley Kubrick chose it for his film. Johann Strauss composed not to challenge us as to delight us. It seems strange now, but when Strauss was composing his waltzes, Viennese society was shocked. The waltz was considered lewd stuff as it made couples of genteel dancers who were more comfortable with line dancing and holding gloved hands as opposed to embracing each other on the dance floor.

Johann Strauss (aka “The Waltz King”) is 46th on the list. His music still rings true, but as one critic put it, it’s the music of a world that no longer exists. His most famous waltzes are “Tales from the Vienna Woods,” “Roses from the South,” “Wine, Women and Song,” and “The Blue Danube.” Strauss also composed a number of polkas, and a ballet: “Cinderella.”
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