Richard Strauss

Also sprach Zarathustra

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: Approx. 35 Minutes
Genre: Symphonic Poem
Time of Creation: 1895–1896
World Premiere: November 27, 1896 (Frankfurt am Main)

Table of Contents

Richard Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra in 5 Sentences

For his symphonic poem Also sprach Zarathustra, Richard Strauss was inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s main poetic-philosophical work with the same title. But Strauss also had other literature in mind when composing, for example the opening monologue of Goethe’s Faust. The fact that Strauss ultimately focused on Nietzsche after all, and even structured his composition with Nietzsche’s headings, is perhaps also due to the fact that Nietzsche’s hymn-like language and “musical” work structure (the four parts of Nietzsche’s writing correspond to the four movements of a symphony) virtually call for a musical setting. Richard Strauss‘ work was on the pulse of the time – Gustav Mahler also had the idea of setting Nietzsche’s work to music at the same time. What is particularly progressive about Strauss’ composition is the virtuosic orchestral treatment (it almost feels as if each orchestral musician is a soloist).

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Richard Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra

Highlight 1: Famous opening climax

This is one of the beginnings that everyone probably knows 😊 Starting with the three-note “nature motif” that runs throughout the work, there is a huge build-up, at the climax of which the organ enters:

Highlight 2: Contrast - the "Backworldsmen"

This heroic beginning is immediately followed by a contrasting program. Strauss lets the “Backwordlsmen” appear in a religious mood:

Highlight 3: Climax

Towards the end of the first part, Zarathustra’s collapse comes closer and closer. It gets louder and louder, wilder and wilder, and then the trumpets blare that nature motif that we already know from the beginning (Highlight 1), and then – silence.

Highlight 4: Recovery and ambivalent conclusion

The second part embodies Zarathustra’s recovery. At the end, Strauss lets the work fade away in discord – the “peaceful” ending attempted by the violins and high woodwinds is undermined by the nature motif in the low strings:

3 Questions and Answers about Richard Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra

Question 1: Why did Richard Strauss choose Nietzsche as a model for Also sprach Zarathustra?

Strauss sympathized with Nietzsche’s attacks on German philistinism and was averse to Christianity.

Question 2: What are the names of the parts of Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra?

The nine parts, separated by pauses in three places, are named after selected chapters from Nietzsche’s book:

1) “Sonnenaufgang” (Sunrise)
2) “Von den Hinterweltlern” (Of the Backworldsmen)
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)

Question 3: Is Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra also used in other contexts?

Yes. The work became famous as film music, namely in Stanley Kubrick’s „2001: A Space Odyssey“.

2 Recommended Recordings of Richard Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra

Recording 1: WDR Symphony Orchestra, Cristian Măcelaru (live, 2021)

A well-balanced performance comes from the WDR Sinfonieorchester conducted by Cristian Măcelaru:

Recording 2: Concertgebouworkest, Mariss Janssons (live, 2012)

The Concertgebouworkest and Mariss Janssons also give a spectacular performance of Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra:

1 Quote about Richard Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra

I'm quite a fellow after all.

Richard Strauss in a letter to his wife after the premiere of Also sprach Zarathustra

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