Archive for Also Sprach Zarathustra

Also Sprach Zarathrustra: Einleitung, oder Sonnenaufgang

Posted in History, Music, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on July 21, 2019 by telescoper

Here is a short video of the historic first manned landing on the Moon. I don’t know about you but I find the ghostly images are extremely affecting.

If there’s one piece of music indelibly associated with the Apollo missions, it’s the piece accompanying that clip: the introduction (or `Dawn’) from the orchestral tone poem Also Sprach Zarathrustra by Richard Strauss. Amazingly it was only a couple of years ago that I heard this piece performed live for the first time. I vividly remember how  the percussionists were clearly enjoying themselves during that performance. Not many orchestral pieces start with the percussion section front and centre. Whenever I’ve heard the piece since then I can’t help thinking how much I’d love to have a bash at the timpani part!

Anyway, here’s a clip from the Proms a few years ago to give you some idea of the tremendous impact this piece can have when you hear it in a concert hall.

 

 

 

 

Beethoven and Strauss at St David’s Hall 

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on February 25, 2017 by telescoper

I’m a bit late writing about this because the last two days have been very busy, but on Wednesday evening (22nd February) I went to a concert at St David’s Hall in Cardiff, featuring the Philharmonia Orchestra under the direction of Principal Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen.

The first half of the programme featured two pieces by Beethoven, starting with a piece that was entirely new to me: his rarely heard concert overture Zur Namensfeier. It’s just a short piece (7 minutes long) and isn’t among Beethoven’s best compositions, but it did at least get the Philharmonia warmed up for the main event.

The Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Emperor”) wasn’t immediately popular when it was first performed in 1809 – perhaps because it was considered a bit grandiose – but is now firmly established as one of the pinnacles of the repertoire. The soloist was the superb Pierre-Laurent Aimard who gave us an electrifying performance, though I did feel that some of the transitions from soloist to orchestra could have been a little smoother.

The second half of the programme was devoted to a single work by Richard Strauss, for which the orchestra was augmented  by the addition of brass and a larger percussion section.

For many people, the tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra is irrevocably associated with Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey  as well as the BBC coverage of the Apollo moon landings. The opening section, representing sunrise (“as the individual enters the world, or the world enters the individual”), was memorably featured in both. Perhaps that association is why the opening section of this work sounds very modern, when it was actually written in 1896.

This is a spine-tingling piece to hear live, especially with the timpani, trumpets and splendid organ of St David’s Hall giving it everything.  The principal percussionist was clearly loving every minute.

But the sunrise is only one section of nine and it’s a pity that it’s often the only part we get to hear. The other sections are rather more recognisably late-romantic, but they cover a huge range as Strauss expresses in music various aspects of the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche that inspired this piece.

The whole performance was brilliantly energised. Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen got so carried away at one point that the baton slipped from his hand and flew into the First Violins. That’s definitely the first time I’ve seen that happen!
The concert ended to tumultuous applause: St David’s Hall wasn’t full, but the audience was very appreciative of an excellent performance. 

Also Sprach Zarathustra

Posted in Biographical, Music, Poetry with tags , , , , on September 8, 2009 by telescoper

Today is the 60th anniversary of the death of the great composer Richard Strauss in 1949. I’ve already used up the music which is probably the most appropriate for this occasion, so I thought I’d mark it instead with a clip from the work that is probably most familiar to my likely readership, Also Sprach Zarathustra, as used in the closing stages of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey.

This little clip is from the final stages of the film, though the music itself is from the opening segment of the Strauss work, the part that represents the Sunrise.

For people of my age, this music is inextricably linked not only with the film, but also with the TV coverage of the moon landings that happened about the same time as its release, about 40 years ago, and for which it also provided the theme music. I don’t know which came first. I’d love to be able to say that these events are behind what made me become an astrophysicist but, as I’ve explained before, the truth is somewhat different.

Anyway, the theme of transfiguration and rebirth depicted in the movie  seems to me to be one more closely related to Strauss’ earlier work Tod und Verklärung,  and it always makes me think of the following lines from East Coker, the second of the Four Quartets by TS Eliot:

Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.