What Is It About the Music in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey That’s So Tantalizing?

May 21, 2018

We have film director Stanley Kubrick to thank for creating a 1968 sci-fi film imprinting music and images onto our collective consciousness. Now, 50 years after his movie changed the course of sci-fi films, Warner Brothers is re-releasing Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The film opens with the dramatic bars of Also Spoke Zarathustra, and uses classic works throughout to evoke the mystery of the universe.

"Johann Strauss II’s Blue Danube waltz and the spaceship floating together is a marvelous juxtaposition of movement in the endless void of space,” says Jeff Rush, Chair of the Film and Media Arts Department at Temple University’s School of Theater, Film and Media Arts. "It’s music that’s actually sort of sentimental, but has rhythmic relationship to the movement that is great."

"The one thing 2001 does that’s very powerful,” says Rush, “is respect the abstraction that’s built into the music.”  It’s not a literal accompaniment to the action. Instead, “the music opens the film up to all kinds of possibilities.”

And that, perhaps, is  the pull of strange, incessant evocations of the avant-garde pieces of Gyory Legiti’s used in the film.    

It’s also the attraction of the dawn of ages drama summoned by Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra.  We're peering into a celestial sphere, still unknown in 2018.

The powerful 19th- and 20th-century music employed in 2001: A Space Odyssey was composed for its own sake. Capable of standing alone, it enriches us and frees our imaginations to take an emotional journey through space.