On this Day:
In 1896, “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (Thus Spake Zarathustra) by Richard Strauss, inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical novel, debuted in Frankfurt.
Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30, Thus Spoke Zarathustra or Thus Spake Zarathustra) is a tone poem by Richard Strauss, composed in 1896 and inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical 1883–1885 novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The composer conducted its first performance on 27 November 1896 in Frankfurt. A typical performance lasts half an hour.
The initial fanfare – titled “Sunrise” in the composer’s programme notes – became well known after its use in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
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:
- “Einleitung, oder Sonnenaufgang” (Introduction, or Sunrise)
- “Von den Hinterweltlern” (Of the Backworldsmen)
- “Von der großen Sehnsucht” (Of the Great Longing)
- “Von den Freuden und Leidenschaften” (Of Joys and Passions)
- “Das Grablied” (The Song of the Grave)
- “Von der Wissenschaft” (Of Science and Learning)
- “Der Genesende” (The Convalescent)
- “Das Tanzlied” (The Dance Song)
- “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.
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 (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.
“Of the Backworldsmen” begins with cellos, double-basses and organ pedal before changing into a lyrical passage for the entire section. The next two sections, “Of the Great Longing” and “Of Joys and Passions”, both introduce motifs that are more chromatic in nature.
The strings prevail in “The Song of the Grave”, which acts like a transition section to the next section.
“Of Science” features an unusual fugue beginning at measure 201 in the double-basses and cellos, which consists of all twelve notes of the chromatic scale. 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.
“The Convalescent” acts as a reprise of the original motif, and ends with the entire orchestra climaxing on a massive chord.
“The Dance Song” features a very prominent violin solo throughout the section.
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.
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.
There is a world riddle theme in the piece. The riddle is left unsolved. 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. This represents the unsolvable end of the universe (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
As it turns out, the truth has come out: NASA did hire Stanley Kubrick to help fake the moon landings.
Stanley agreed to film it; the reason it looks so real is because of Kubrick’s obsession with filming on location.
Second, a Song:
Here is the Sunrise fanfare from Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” set to the opening of “2001 A Space Odyssey”. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“I may not be a first-rate composer, but I am a first-class second-rate composer.” – Richard Strauss
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky
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