2001: A Space Odyssey is for several reasons the most important film in the history of sci-fi cinema, and one of the reasons that made it so beloved is exactly that fascinating combination of images and classical music conceived by Stanley Kubrick. The choice of suggestive composers such as Richard Strauss, György Ligeti and Johann Strauss II contributed to the creation of scenes that remained indelible in the history of cinema, such as the opening credits on the notes of Also Sprach Zarathustra or The Blue Danube during the fluctuation in space.
What not everyone knows is that the choice of that classical music collection was not Stanley Kubrick’s first intention. Originally, Kubrick had chosen composer Alex North and commissioned him to create an original soundtrack for the film. Before that, Alex North was the creator of the music for movies like A Streetcar Named Desire, Cleopatra and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and had already worked with Kubrick for Spartacus‘ soundtrack.
Part of the original soundtrack is available on Spotify, while below you can see the reconstruction of the opening credits of 2001: A Space Odyssey with the music originally written for the film.
The reason why those musics were then discarded by Kubrick is, simply, that the director considered them inadequate. Kubrick already had in mind how the soundtrack of the film should have been and he had listened together with Alex North to the orchestral compositions that Kubrick imagined, scene by scene. The composer had received indications to be inspired by that kind of compositions, but eventually Kubrick eventually ditched his work.
Below is an excerpt from an interview released years ago by Kubrick to Michel Ciment, where the director answers about the soundtrack:
However good our best film composers may be, they are not a Beethoven, a Mozart or a Brahms. Why use music which is less good when there is such a multitude of great orchestral music available from the past and from our own time? When you are editing a film, it’s very helpful to be able to try out different pieces of music to see how they work with the scene…Well, with a little more care and thought, these temporary tracks can become the final score.
In short, a net rejection. The original music is actually quite different from the classic choices made later by Kubrick. And you know, Kubrick was a huge perfectionist, as evidenced by the anecdotes and statements of those who worked with him. The rejection, though strong and surprising for a soundtrack that is still valid and suggestive, is more than credible. And in retrospect it can also be considered legitimate, given the longevity that some scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey still have today among the preferences of cinema lovers.