The History of The Albums – n°376
2001: A Space Odyssey is a soundtrack as classic as it is exceptional, comparable to the best film music of all time. Beyond the pure content and success of the film, this soundtrack has forged its legend by being totally different from what was usually done. Indeed 2001: A Space Odyssey is known for revolutionizing the use of music in a film and also for its unique way of choosing compositions. Prior to 1968, film music focused primarily on 2 models. The first one is best known as the Show Tunes, also used in theater and musicals, with songs/musical parts that are an integral part of the story. The Film Score is the second widespread model for which composers and artists compose an original music on a global theme that fits the film. We found there notably Ennio Morricone, the inventor of the Spaghetti Western, Bernard Hermann, John Barry, Michel Legrand, Maurice Jarre or The Beatles, Elvis Presley in a popular register. However, in 1968, the history of cinema music will change forever, with the arrival of the "Soundtrack" that 2001: A Space Odyssey will highlight as the main precursor. The difference that the Soundtrack offers compared to the Show Tunes or Film Score, is that a soundtrack includes songs or artists licensed, often external to the creative process of the film and whose songs / compositions already existed before. Today we even find soundtracks inspired by the film with songs that do not even appear in the film.
2001: A Space Odyssey is a kind of compilation whose extracts were recorded from 1958 to 1968. There are several different composers (Richard Strauss, Gyorgy Ligeti, Johann Strauss II, Aram Khachaturian) with several orchestras/conductors based in Germany, a beautiful and rich land of Modern Classical. All this is a choice and a direction wanted by the director/producer Stanley Kubrick who wanted to use music as a main ingredient for his film. The goal was to put the music in the foreground rather than just an accompaniment to embellish the story. So we will analyze precisely the first version of the soundtrack released the same year as the film, which included 8 compositions, for 37 minutes of exceptional quality. As for all the great film music of the time, each piece is carefully chosen to give a superior dimension to the film as Ennio Morricone did in his way. Except that here, 2001: A Space Odyssey proposes an adventure in a completely different musical universe, a Modern Classical that escapes on Waltz, Romanticism or the innovative technique of Micropolyphony, directed by Gyorgy Ligeti, which is an innovative way of treating chords and polyphonic musical textures, a style that originates from the Middle Ages.
The beauty and uniqueness of the soundtrack 2001: A Space Odyssey is that it breaks all the codes of film music or classical music LPs. In general, classical music on discs proposed reworks or interpretations of compositions of an ensemble, mainly driven by the prowess of the conductor and his musicians. 2001: A Space Odyssey manages to shine with different actors, different styles while offering a rich and homogeneous tale. Of course I advise you to watch the film to understand how the music blends into the scenes as a real dialogue. But finally even if you decide not to watch it, I can tell you that this sound adventure gives you chills no matter what. First of all, the cultish introduction and outroduction with Also sprach Zarathustra, a true standard of music, repeated thousands of times afterwards. Composed by Richard Strauss, a major German figure of the end of the Romanticism era, the adaptation of Karl Böhm and The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra succeeded in giving this composition the glory it deserved. Richard Strauss took a long time for his innovative and sophisticated vision to be widely recognized, yet his influence was already so present for the composers of the 20th century. However, it is undeniable to see that 2001: A Space Odyssey has amplified the merit of the German composer, since it has become a fundamental example for film music after that, especially on the famous John Williams (Superman / Star Wars)
Gyorgy Legeti and Aram Khahaturian were the only two composers alive at the time of the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey. They bring a more modern vision (especially Legeti), which suits perfectly the Science-Fiction theme of the film. Less grandiloquent and triumphant than Also sprach Zarathustra, the compositions Requiem, Lux Aeternat and Atmospheres use the revolutionary techniques of Micropolyphony which sets the global atmosphere of the film. These two first compositions are supported by a choir and get lost in an atmosphere as terrifying as mysterious. We literally have the impression of being at the end of our breath, close to chaos. Atmospheres abandons the choral to push this formula to its paroxysm, like a plunge into the void. Composed in 1943 by Aram Khachaturian, Gayane Ballet Suite (Adagio) from Gayane Suite No. 3 leads us to an ultra melancholic ballad that approaches something more traditional, especially when compared to the avant-garde Legeti. We can only appreciate the variety of choices on 2001: A Space Odyssey that manage to bring nuance to the futuristic atmosphere of the film. Finally, this soundtrack proposes a classical music standard called The Blue Danube, composed by Johann Strauss II, conducted by the famous Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Although this composition was already iconic before the release of the film, it is just impossible not to know this delightful Waltz, a true monument. It was a very bold move to link opposing compositions, but I think the choice of this one may just be one of the greatest strokes of genius in music history. Creating an alchemy between the traditional and the avant-garde is an absolute feat, and that's what makes this soundtrack great, in my opinion one of the top 3 (all-time) in this category.