April Fool's Day came a little late in 1968 for Alex North. April 3, the film composer settled into his seat at the Loew's Capitol for the New York premiere of "2001: A Space Odyssey," expecting success. It was his first score for Stanley Kubrick since providing "Spartacus" with its lush and lusty Oscar-nominated music.
In an opening downbeat, North's spirits went south. What he heard filling the film's first wordless 24 minutes was the rudest of awakenings, and it will be reprised Sept. 20-21 when that landmark sci-fi classic is unreeled at Avery Fisher Hall, to the live accompaniment of the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Alan Gilbert.
Instead of the original score he commissioned, Kubrick retained the temporary track of classical music that he used to edit the picture. Behind North's back, that music married the images — the spinning motion of satellites in the extended space-station docking and lunar landing sequences dipping and gliding gracefully to waltzes — Johann Strauss II's "The Blue Danube" and Richard Strauss' "Also sprach Zarathustra."
(Originally, Kubrick set the space-station sequence to the Scherzo from Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's "Midsummer Night's Dream," but a friend suggested "The Blue Danube" might work better, and Kubrick re-edited the sequence accordingly.)
North was never notified of this game change, but Kubrick did head him off at the pass by telling him only sound effects would be used for the second half of the film.
Only 32 minutes of music were written for the 160-minute film, and North subsequently recycled them in his score for "The Shoes of the Fisherman," "Shanks" and "Dragonslayer." His "2001" score went unheard for 25 years until a friend — fellow composer Jerry Goldsmith — re-recorded it in 1993 for "Varese Sarabande."
John W. Waxman, whose Themes and Variations company has the world's largest library of film scores and makes sheet music available to orchestras for live performances with films, said North's 32-minute score has been performed live only once — a few years ago by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, playing tribute to film critic Roger Ebert.
"They asked him what his favorite films were, and '2001' was on the list," recalled Waxman, "so Richard Kaufman, who conducted a 'Friday Night at the Movies' series, arranged to give Alex's music an airing at last. It came as a total surprise to Roger, who had not heard of Alex's '2001' contribution."
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