Also sprach Zarathustra

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Also sprach Zarathustra
Tone poem by Richard Strauss
Strauss in 1894
Based onNietzsche's philosophical novel
Composed1896 (1896)
Duration33 minutes
ScoringLarge orchestra
Date27 November 1897 (1897-11-27)
ConductorRichard Strauss

Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 (German: [ˈalzo ʃpʁaːx t͡saʁaˈtʊstʁa] , Thus Spoke Zarathustra or Thus Spake Zarathustra)[1] is a tone poem by Richard Strauss, composed in 1896 and inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical 1883–1885 novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra.[2] Strauss conducted its first performance on 27 November 1896 in Frankfurt. A typical performance lasts roughly thirty-three minutes.

The initial fanfare – titled "Sunrise" in the composer's programme notes[3] – became well known after its use in Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.[4]


The work is orchestrated for piccolo, 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 3 oboes, English horn, clarinet in E-flat, 2 clarinets in B-flat, bass clarinet in B-flat, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 6 horns in F and E, 4 trumpets in C and E, 3 trombones, 2 tubas, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, glockenspiel, bell on low E, organ, and strings: 2 harps, violins I, II (16 each), violas (12), cellos (12), and double basses (8) (with low B string).


The piece is divided into nine sections played with only three definite pauses. Strauss named the sections after selected chapters of Friedrich Nietzsche's novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra:

  1. "Sonnenaufgang" (Sunrise)
  2. "Von den Hinterweltlern" (Of the Backworldsmen)[5]
  3. "Von der großen Sehnsucht" (Of the Great Longing)
  4. "Von den Freuden und Leidenschaften" (Of Joys and Passions)
  5. "Das Grablied" (The Song of the Grave)
  6. "Von der Wissenschaft" (Of Science and Learning)
  7. "Der Genesende" (The Convalescent)
  8. "Das Tanzlied" (The Dance Song)
  9. "Nachtwandlerlied" (Song of the Night Wanderer)

These selected chapters from Nietzsche's novel highlight major moments of the character Zarathustra's philosophical journey in the novel. The general storylines and ideas in these chapters were the inspiration used to build the tone poem's structure.

 \relative c' { \clef treble \time 4/4 c2 g' | c }

The piece starts with a sustained double low C on the double basses, contrabassoon and church organ. This transforms into the brass fanfare of the Introduction and introduces the "dawn" motif (from "Zarathustra's Prologue", the text of which is included in the printed score) that is common throughout the work; the motif includes three notes, in intervals of a fifth and octave, as C–G–C[2] (known also as the Nature-motif). On its first appearance, the motif is a part of the first five notes of the natural overtone series: octave, octave and fifth, two octaves, two octaves and major third (played as part of a C major chord with the third doubled). The major third is immediately changed to a minor third, which is the first note played in the work (E flat) that is not part of the overtone series.[2]

"Of the Backworldsmen" begins with cellos, double-basses and organ pedal before changing into a lyrical passage for the entire section.[2]

"Of the Great Longing" introduces motifs that are more chromatic in nature.[2]

"Of Joys and Passions", in C minor, marks the first subject theme of the work's allegro (exposition) proper.

The strings prevail in "The Song of the Grave", in which some[who?] would say the second subject theme, in B minor, starts in this section.

The following portion of the piece can be analyzed as a large development section. "Of Science and Learning" features an unusual fugue beginning at measure 201 in the double-basses and cellos, which consists of all twelve notes of the chromatic scale.[2] Measure 223 contains one of the very few sections in the orchestral literature where the basses must play a contra B (the lowest B on a piano), which is only possible on a 5-string bass or (less frequently) on a 4-string bass with a low-B extension.

 \relative c { \clef bass \time 4/4 c,4(\pp g' c2) | b4( fis d2) | \times 2/3 { ees4( g bes) } \times 2/3 { a( e cis~ } | \times 2/3 { des2) f!-- aes-- } | g2. }

The development continues in "The Convalescent". By the end of this section, there is a prolonged retransition over the dominant of C major.

Back in C major, "The Dance Song" marks the recapitulation. It features a very prominent violin solo throughout the section. Later in this section, elements from "The Song of the Grave" (the second subject theme) are heard in the work's original key.

"Song of the Night Wanderer" marks the coda of the tone poem. It begins with 12 strikes of midnight. The end of the "Song of the Night Wanderer" leaves the piece half-resolved, with high flutes, piccolos and violins playing a B major chord, while the lower strings pluck a C.

 \relative c'''' { \clef treble \time 4/4 \key b \major <dis b fis dis>1\ppp | \clef bass c,,,,,4 r c r | c r r2 \bar "|." }

One of the major compositional themes of the piece is the contrast between the keys of B major, representing humanity, and C major, representing the universe. Because B and C are adjacent notes, these keys are tonally dissimilar: B major uses five sharps, while C major has none.[6]

World riddle theme[edit]

There are two opinions about the world riddle theme. One is that the fifth/octave intervals (C–G–C8va) constitute the World riddle motif.[2] The other is that the two conflicting keys in the final section represent the World riddle (C–G–C B–F–B8va), with the unresolved harmonic progression being an unfinished or unsolved riddle: the melody does not conclude with a well-defined tonic note as being either C or B, hence it is unfinished.[2] The ending of the composition has been described:[2]

But the riddle is not solved. The tone-poem ends enigmatically in two keys, the Nature-motif plucked softly, by the basses in its original key of C—and above the woodwinds, in the key of B major. The unsolvable end of the universe: for Strauss was not pacified by Nietzsche's solution.

— Essay from Old and[2]

Neither C major nor B major is established as the tonic at the end of the composition.


The first recording was made in 1935 with Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.[7] In 1944, Strauss conducted the Vienna Philharmonic in an experimental high fidelity recording of the piece, made on a German Magnetophon tape recorder.[8] This was later released on LP by Vanguard Records and on CD by various labels. Strauss's friend and colleague, Fritz Reiner, made the first stereophonic recording of the music with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in March 1954 for RCA Victor.[9] In 2012, this recording was added to the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry 2011 list of "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important" American sound recordings.[10] Thus Spake Zarathustra by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel reached No. 33 in the UK chart in 1969.[11] The recording of the opening fanfare used for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey was a 1959 recording performed by the Vienna Philharmonic and conducted by Herbert von Karajan.[12]

In popular culture[edit]

Due to its use in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the opening theme of the tone poem became well-known, and was often used as a portent of a significant event to come or regularly used for space-related scenes. A rare instance of its use on film before 2001 can be heard over the opening credits of the 1965 BBC documentary The Epic that Never Was, which investigated Alexander Korda's ill-fated 1937 adaptation of the Robert Graves novel I, Claudius.[13]

  • The theme became a regular as an intro to singer Elvis Presley's concerts in his later years. It was also used by WMET on December 1, 1976.
  • The BBC used the theme in its television coverage of the Apollo space missions.[14]
  • Brazilian musician Eumir Deodato's funk-influenced arrangement of the opening fanfare Sunrise theme, titled "Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)", reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 U.S. popular music sales charts in 1973, and No. 7 on the UK Singles Chart.[15] Deodato's version won the 1974 Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance[16] and was featured in the 1979 film Being There[17] starring Peter Sellers, as his character leaves home for the very first time, as well as Wonderstruck (2017) and in Priscilla (2023).
  • Retired professional wrestler and pop culture personality Ric Flair used several versions of the opening fanfare as his entrance theme for the majority of his in-ring career.[18]
  • The sequel to 2001, 1984's 2010: The Year We Make Contact (itself an adaptation of the book's 1982 sequel, 2010: Odyssey Two) also used the opening fanfare in its opening and closing credits. For the closing credits, it begins with the film's final scene, a scanning shot of Europa revealing a Monolith on its surface.
  • The Rugrats Movie used the theme during the part when the babies find Stu trying to get up in his crashed pterodactyl-like glider, believing he is the "lizard" (mispronunciation of wizard) they were looking for.
  • The American band Phish has performed this theme 259 times since its live debut July 16, 1993, at The Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, including 17 times at the New York City arena Madison Square Garden.[19]
  • Toy Story 2 used a brief sample of the theme, when Buzz Lightyear is trying to reach for a battery by crossing a cilindar foothold bridge, before falling.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory used the theme when Willy Wonka, Mike Teevee, Mr Teevee, Grandpa Joe, and Charlie Bucket witness the giant chocolate bar being transported via television. Said chocolate bar then appears on the television in a recreation of an actual 2001 scene.
  • WALL-E used the theme during the climax when the Captain defeats AUTO, likely as a reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • The third episode of Angry Birds Toons, “Full Metal Chuck”, uses a rendition of the theme when Chuck launches himself out of the slingshot. However, it was replaced with an original theme on the Season One Volume One DVD release for unknown reasons.
  • Ice Age: Collision Course used the theme when Scrat was on a giant asteroid, where he finds a place to bury his acorn, before he accidentally splits the asteroid apart, sending it on a collision course within the Earth.
  • Ray Conniff recorded a version entitled Bah Bah Conniff Sprach (Zarathustra) for his 1973 album You Are the Sunshine of My Life.[citation needed]
  • The 1970s PBS television program The Electric Company used a fragment of the opening fanfare in its animated monolith segments.
  • In 2001, Hong Kong singer Eason Chan repeatedly sampled the tune in a Cantopop-disco song that was also called 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • The 2023 film Barbie used the theme for the movie's opening music and for later scenes in reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • As of (at least) 2023-2024, American rock band Blink-182 used the theme as their concert opener.[20][21][22][23][24]


  1. ^ Listed in the closing credits of 2001: A Space Odyssey as "Thus spoke Zarathustra" but on the official soundtrack albums as "Thus spake Zarathustra". The book by Nietzsche has been translated both ways and the title of Strauss's music is usually rendered in the original German whenever not discussed in the context of 2001. Although Britannica Online's entry lists the piece as "Thus spoke Zarathustra", music encyclopedias usually use "spake".
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Richard Strauss – Tone-Poem, Death and Transfiguration, Opus 24" Archived 2008-04-15 at the Wayback Machine (and other works), Old And Sold
  3. ^ Also sprach Zarathustra Archived 2011-07-13 at the Wayback Machine – notes by Los Angeles Philharmonic
  4. ^ "Also Sprach Zarathustra!", Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, January 2012.
  5. ^ Nietzsche, Friedrich. "III. Backworldsmen". Thus Spake Zarathustra. Translated by Thomas Common – via Project Gutenberg.
  6. ^ Also sprach Zarathustra – Notes by American Symphony Orchestra
  7. ^ Philip Clark, "Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra – which recording is best?", Gramophone, 24 November 2014.
  8. ^ Raymond Holden, Richard Strauss: A Musical Life. Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2014, ISBN 978-0-300-12642-6, p. 157.
  9. ^ Kenneth Morgan, Fritz Reiner, Maestro and Martinet, University of Illinois Press, 2010, Springfield. ISBN 978-0252077302. page 204.
  10. ^ "The National Recording Registry 2011". National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress. Library of Congress. May 24, 2012.
  11. ^ Thus Spake Zarathustra,
  12. ^ "2001: A Space Odyssey Soundtrack Credits". IMDb.
  13. ^ Charles Laughton "I, Claudius" - Dirk Bogarde & 'The Epic That Never Was', retrieved 2023-08-25
  14. ^ "Apollo 11 Lift-off". BBC. Retrieved 26 July 2021.
  15. ^ Desouteiro, Arnaldo. 40 Years of Eumir Deodato's iconic "Prelude". Jazz Station. 30 September 2013.
  16. ^ "1973 Grammy Award Winners". Retrieved 1 May 2011.
  17. ^ "Being There (1979) Soundtrack". IMDB. Retrieved 26 September 2020.
  18. ^ "Ric Flair – Also sprach Zarathustra". Classic FM. Retrieved 24 June 2020.
  19. ^ "Phish – Also Sprach Zarathustra". Retrieved 11 July 2023.
  20. ^ OLLHJR (May 2023). "Blink-182 - Entrance/Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 (Live in Chicago, IL 5/6/2023)". Retrieved 2024-04-25.
  21. ^ Guillermo Moreno (April 2024). "Blink 182 "Intro Also Sprach Zarathustra + Anthem Part Two" live, México 2024". Retrieved 2024-04-25.
  22. ^ /u/rodox182 (2023). "Epic Musical Homage: Elvis Presley and blink-182's Stunning "Also sprach Zarathustra" Intros! 🎶". Reddit. Retrieved 2024-04-25.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  23. ^ IANS (2023-04-15). "Blink-182 Brings Rock Back To Coachella With Late-Breaking Set". Outlook India. Retrieved 2024-04-25.
  24. ^ Gleason, Emma (2024-03-02). "Blink-182′s Auckland expletive-filled concert had me asking, what's my age again?". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2024-04-25.

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