also called

Also sprach Zarathustra (Richard Strauss)

Also sprach Zarathustra, op. 30 is a tone poem by Richard Strauss, composed in 1896 and inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche's book Also sprach Zarathustra. It contains the World Riddle theme, a particular sequence of musical notes in the melody. The composer conducted its first performance in Frankfurt.

Its introduction is one of the most recognisable pieces of music ever written; among many of its uses it includes that of Stanley Kubrick as the key musical motif in his 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. (A truncated version of the introduction featuring only the first triad and fanfare and repetitive tympani thumping was used for animated spoofs of the film from Sesame Workshop's The Electric Company.) The introduction is also well-known as entrance music for performers including professional wrestler Ric Flair and musician Elvis Presley, and the athletics teams for the University of South Carolina.


The orchestra consists of the following forces:Woodwinds:
3 Flutes (3rd doubling Piccolo)
3 Oboes
English horn
3 Clarinets in E-flat and B-flat
Bass Clarinet in B-flat
3 Bassoons
6 Horns in F
4 Trumpets in C
3 Trombones
2 Tubas
Bass Drum
Bell on low EKeyboards:
2 Harps

Violins I, II (16 each)
Violas (12)
Violoncellos (12)
Double Basses (8) (Several with low C string)


A typical performance lasts half an hour, and is divided into nine sections played with only three clear breaks. Strauss named the sections after selected chapters in the book:

  1. Einleitung (Introduction), or sunrise
  2. Von den Hinterweltlern (Of the Backworldsmen)
  3. Von der großen Sehnsucht (Of the Great Longing)
  4. Von den Freuden und Leidenschaften (Of the Joys and Passions)
  5. Das Grablied (The Grave-Song)
  6. Von der Wissenschaft (Of Science)
  7. Der Genesende (The Convalescent)
  8. Das Tanzlied (The Dance Song)
  9. Nachtwandlerlied (Song of the Night Wanderer)

The piece starts with a sustained low C , 32' pitch, on the organ. This leads 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 permeates the structure of the entire work: the motif includes three notes, in intervals of a fifth and octave, as C-G-C (also called the Nature-motif).

"Of the Backworldsmen" begins with 'cellos, double-basses and organ pedal before opening up into a lyrical passage for the entire section. The following two sections, "Of the Great Yearning" and "Of Joys and Passions", both introduce motifs that are more chromatic in nature.

"Of Science" features an unusual fugue beginning in the double-basses and cellos, which consists of all twelve notes of the chromatic scale. It is one of the very few sections in the orchestral literature where the basses must play a contra-b (lowest b on a piano).

"The Convalescent" acts as a reprise of the original motif, and climaxes with a massive chord in the entire orchestra.

"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. Although B and C are adjacent notes, these keys are tonally dissimilar: B major uses five sharps, while C major has none.

World Riddle theme

There are two viewpoints about the World Riddle theme (a particular sequence of notes in the melody). Some sources denote the fifth/octave intervals (C-G-C) as the World-Riddle motif. However, other sources refer to the 2 conflicting keys in the final section as representing the World Riddle (C-G-C B-F#-B), with the unresolved harmonic progression being an unfinished or unsolved riddle: the melody does not conclude with a clearly defined dominant note as being either C or B, hence it is unfinished. The ending of the composition has been described:
"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."
Neither the key of C nor the key of B is established as the dominant at the end of the composition.

See also



  • "Richard Strauss - Tone-Poem, Death and Transfiguration, Opus 24" (and other works), Old And Sold - Antiques Digest, webpage: OldSold-sy49

External links

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