Tuesday, May 5, 2020

2001, A Space Odyssey - Kubrick and North

A Temp Track is a piece of music used while a film is in production. It serves as a bit of a placeholder; think "Scrambled Egg," the words McCartney used when writing what would become "Yesterday." A film score's composer is more likely to write the score once the initial cinematography is complete. For 2001, A Space Odyssey, the Temp Score was essentially what we find today on the LP version of the iconic film. Certainly, the strains of The Blue Danube, Gy├Ârgy Ligeti's  Lux Aeterna, and the Gayane Ballet are as familiar to the film's fans as John Williams' work is to Star Wars, but nowhere is an opening scene's music more integral to a film than Also Sprach Zarathustra. Who is not enamored as Dr. Floyd's shuttlecraft delicately dances around the spinning wheeled space station to the Strauss waltz. 

Indeed, cinematic history would have been very different had Stanley Kubrick gone ahead with his original composer Alex North’s score for 2001.  With all the admiration for the film's themes and technical audacity, its musical scoring tends to come last on the list, yet Kubrick gave just as much thought to this aspect of his film. In March 1966, MGM became concerned about 2001's progress and Kubrick put together a showreel of footage to the ad hoc temp score of classical recordings. The studio bosses were delighted with the results and Kubrick brilliantly abandoned North's score.

That said, North's score is a brilliant 40-minute film score masterwork and is now available from Varese Sarabande. While Stanley Kubrick held Alex North in high regard, but ultimately chose to take his film in a different musical direction, and while that may have been disappointing for Alex, it was a decision that helped make 2001 an ageless experience, grounded in the work of Strauss, A. Khatchaturian, and Gyorgy Ligeti. Alex North, however as his long and storied career demonstrates, is a composer of the highest quality regard and didn't take the news well. North had no idea that his score had been tossed until he showed up for a screening of the film. Alex believed, up until his dying day, that his score was the ideal accompaniment to Kubrick's images and that his work had been grossly undervalued.

We can only look at the pieces in hindsight, however. To this writer, here on the 50th anniversary of the film, there is no doubt the power and elegance of the film and its quintessential score. Watch the video with North's score taking the place of Zarathustra, and there is no comparison. But listen instead to North's version and discover a film score that rivals those of Tiompkin, Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Newman.

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