Learn more about Richard Strauss and a piece he wrote which was used in a famous film set in space. Can you create your own film story to go with the music?

Who was the composer?

Richard Strauss was a German composer and conductor who played the piano and the violin 

He is famous for writing tone poems, which are pieces that follow a theme or an idea. 

They can be long or short, but tend to be one movement (without big breaks in-between different sections).

Richard Strauss c. 1936

About the piece

Also Sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra) was written in 1896, and first performed in Frankfurt in Germany that year.  

It is inspired by the philosophical book by Friedrich Nietzsche of the same name (completed in 1885). Nietzsche’s text is about the evolution of the human race. 

A complete performance of the piece usually takes around 30 minutes. The first section of the piece is called ‘Introduction, or Sunrise’.

This part of the piece was used in the opening of a famous film called 2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick. 


Activity 1: Watch and listen 

Listen to the 40 members of the Orchestra of Opera North performing the piece during lockdown in 2020, and use the ‘Musical key words‘ section at the bottom:

  • Can you tap the pulse or the beat on your shoulder? Is it fast or slow? Does it change? 
  • Can you hear a fanfare? 
  • Can you hear strings, both played arco and pizzicato?
  • Can you hear woodwind and brass instruments, and the organ? 
  • Write a list of all the instruments you can see. 

Activity 2: Sunrise 

Did the piece of music make you think of a sunrise? What else did the music made you think of? 

Can you draw the sunrise you imagine in your head when you listen to the music? If you like, post your picture on social media with the hashtag #ONLittleSchool 


Activity 3: Music for film

2001: A Space Odyssey is a film about evolution which is one of the reasons that this piece of music was used in it. You can watch the original trailer.  

If you were a film-maker, what kind of film might you write to go with this music? 

Draw a comic strip/storyboard to show what might be happening in your film whilst this music is playing. There is a template to help you. You can either print it at home odraw your own storyboard on a piece of paper.

Download template  

If you like, post your picture on social media with the hashtag #ONLittleSchool

Musical key words

A tone poem is a piece written for orchestra, usually one movement, which describes a theme or an idea. 

The organ is an instrument found most often in churches and cathedrals. The organ is a keyboard instrument that works by blowing air through long pipes, making a very grand and impressive sound. Most electric keyboards have an organ sound on them – you will see this in the video. 

Percussion instruments are instruments that make sound by striking with a hand or a beater or by hitting two parts together. In the video, you will see a bass drum, a set of three drums called timpani, cymbals and triangle.

A fanfare is a dramatic musical figure that grabs your attention, often used at celebrations and played by the brass section. The brass section includes trumpet, french horn, tuba, trombone and bass trombone. 

The main string instruments in a modern orchestra are violin, viola, cello and double bass. They are played with a bow – arco or plucked – pizzicato.

The woodwind section comprises instruments made of wood or metal. They have metal keys to change notes. In thvideo, you can see flute, oboe, as well as clarinets and bassoon of different sizes.   


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