If you’ve seen the film, then you probably already know what type of music to expect. Originally, Stanley Kubrick employed Alex North (who did the soundtrack to Spartacus) to compose the soundtrack for this film. But when he saw the temporary track, he changed his mind. Temporary tracks are usually other soundtracks, bits of classical music, etc. that filmmakers use as a guide to what the final soundtrack will sound like.
But when Kubrick saw the opening shot of the film (a famous shot of planets lining up with one another) set to the opening moments of Richard Strauss’ Thus Spake Zarathustra, that sold him on it. And because of that decision, to this day, Thus Spake Zarathustra has become one of the most instantly recognisable classical music themes of all time.
In addition to this, the music of the other Strauss (Johann) features with the famous Blue Danube Waltz, which was an unlikely choice for a space movie, but works wonderfully in its context in the film.
These are the easy to listen to bits of the soundtrack. The composer who is actually featured most heavily in this soundtrack is Gyorgy Ligeti, whose music is mostly atmospheric atonal music. As far as atonal music goes, it’s clever stuff, and in the film it never fails to creep me out. But to sit and listen to, I wouldn’t call it a whole lot of fun.
Combine that with the fact that there’s only enough music for about half an hour. So for that reason a lot of the pieces are repeated twice, in slightly different versions. (You get an abridged version of a Ligeti piece as it appears in the film, then a bit later a full version of the original piece.)
Not my favourite soundtrack of all time, by any means. 2 1/2 out of 5.