Stanley Kubrick had pretty good taste in music. His use of the opening sequence of Also Sprach Zarathustra is about as legendary as music in film gets, but it wasn’t just the ultra-famous Strauss bit that he employed to great effect. In fact, an equally effective use of the other Strauss’ By the Beautiful Blue Danube waltz can be found in the same movie. Composers as diverse as Ligeti, Bach, Khachaturian, and Liszt can be heard in Kubrick’s films, and his sense of the moment and the mechanism of classical music to help achieve that moment is one of my favorite things about his films.
My favorite Kubrick movie is Dr. Strangelove, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. My second favorite Kubrick movie is A Clockwork Orange, and that is what I’m here to talk about. I remember the first time I saw the movie being struck by how God damn creepy the opening credits music was:
I had no idea what it was at the time. It was obviously some fucked up synth music, but who wrote it? In part, Wendy/Walter Carlos (this adaptation was done in and around the time of Carlos’ transition), who scored the film. I totally dug the simple chorale structure and the tremendously awkward mordent or whatever the hell it is, and I vowed to listen to more of this. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the music was in fact written by the great Henry Purcell on the occasion of the death of Queen Mary (and as it turns out, his own funeral later that year).
Purcell composed a march (the film’s opening credits music), a canzona, and an anthem for the funeral, though it’s possible that other music was performed that day. It’s possible everyone dropped acid and blew each other for all I know: Purcell didn’t say shit about it and I’m not gonna go look it up at this point. Let’s just assume that the funeral of the woman who watched as her own father was deposed by William of Orange so as to save the Church featured tons of people blowing each other. Quick poll question: should I write an historical fiction novel based on this premise? Reply A for “Yes” and B for “Oh my God Yes.”
Anyway, Purcell’s music, not surprisingly, is awesome. The march is a lot less creepy and lot more somber, but the choral writing is superb and the canzona is probably a little too bouncy for such a solemn affair, but I guess in a good way. Let’s bring the creepy down a notch (or up a notch depending on how you feel about Anglicans):
Crank that shit!