Stanley Kubrick always had a reputation for individuality in his film-making. He invariably created films which stretched the boundaries of established practice in terms of concept, story, camera work and direction. With 2001: A Space Odyssey he also confounded expectations in the soundtrack department. Although he had commissioned a soundtrack from no less a composer than the venerable Alex North, he chose instead to ignore North's specially composed music and stick to his original "temp track" consisting of classical works of his own choosing. The rest as they say is history. His choices of music ranged from the conventional to the positively weird, taking some courageous risks with his creation, but those choices complemented the storyline perfectly and created a soundtrack legend along the way.
The title track is the opening music from "Also Sprach Zarathustra" by Richard Strauss. Always associated during the film with the black monoliths and eclipses (fittingly since this part of the original music symbolises sunrise), this music comes to represent monumental events in the history of mankind as orchestrated by these mysterious forces. By association, this music came to signify humanity's efforts in boldly going where no-one had gone before, and was used in similar situations such as the TV coverage of the Apollo Moon missions and landings in the late 1960s and 1970s. The particular recording used was the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Herbert von Karajan. If you're interested in hearing more of this great work, then Karajan has a number of definitive recordings of Also Sprach Zarathustra and other works by Richard Strauss.
More unusual is Kubrick's choice for the space scenes between the Earth, the Space Station and the Moon. Though scientifically accurate in his lack of rocket sound effects in the vacuum of space, this void with little dialogue needs to be filled. The Blue Danube seems comical at first in this situation but, being the most famous Waltz by the master of Viennese waltzes Johann Strauss Jr., it certain suggests the dance of space craft under the slow inexorable influence of Newtonian gravity and mechanics. The Space Station pirouettes as the shuttle yaws into alignment, while inside a member of the cabin crew demonstrates walking under zero gravity conditions while objects like pens float off. This whole sequence is light and relaxed in mood signalled by an ape's bone turning into a space craft - a million years is just a brief instant to the mysterious monoliths.
The next section of the movie has a deep space craft travelling towards a signal's source from near Jupiter (Saturn in Arthur C. Clarke's book). Most of the crew travel in suspended animation while the craft covers millions of miles under the control of its on-board computer, HAL. While the camera again makes a leisurely journey exploring this situation, the music aptly depicts the vast eerie emptiness of space, the bleak loneliness of the crew within and the huge distance from Earth. The music is an Adagio from the ballet "Gayane" by Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian. This ballet also includes the famous "Sabre Dance", and the theme from the TV Series "The Onedin Line" is the Adagio from another of Khachaturian's ballets called Spartacus. The choice of the Gayane Adagio for this sequence in the film is absolutely perfect and set the standard for many space movies to come such as the Alien series. While James Horner's music in Aliens is a straightforward copy, in Alien Jerry Goldsmith used the loneliness idea in an original way.
One further composer whose music is used extensively on the 2001 soundtrack is Gyorgy Ligeti. His contribution is a number of largely atmospheric pieces which are also associated with the black monoliths, and the inexplicable effects they create. This includes the primeval landscapes inhabited by the apes, the inspection of the mysterious artifact found on the Moon and the last section with its strange visual effects and dreamlike scenes. A Hungarian Jewish composer who survived World War II in a labour camp, Ligeti went on to join the ranks of the musical avant-garde where he led explorations into micropolyphony, or music without pulse and harmony, and especially atmospheric music such as "Atmospheres". The strange textures in "Lux Aeterna" or "Eternal Light" is created solely by unaccompanied voices. Ligeti's works create the suitably weird sound effects for the more "far out" trips of the movie.
This is a classical soundtrack in all senses of the word. Just as the movie came to redefine the Science Fiction Film concept, the soundtrack also rewrote the book on Sci-Fi Soundtracks. This special re-release is available from Amazon.co.uk in the UK or Amazon.com in the US. The full track listing is as follows:
The Music as it appears in the Film:
Supplemental Material (not included on the original soundtrack):
If you play an instrument, the most popular piece from this soundtrack for playing is likely to be "The Blue Danube". This is available in a number of different arrangements for a variety of instruments and here is a simple arrangement on mfiles. It is easy to search for more demanding arrangements or for other instruments online, but here is a starter selection for piano from three different sheet music sites: