How well known is the title "Also sprach Zarathustra" to the general population?

I’m writing a story in which a character says he hums this at one point. Do you think it’s likely most readers would recognize that I meant the tune “Dun…dun…dun…DUN DUN” that’s most famously used in *2001: A Space Odyssey? * The story is intended for adults, in a professional magazine.

No. Many people don’t listen to classical music. And if you reverse it by giving the notes, I imagine many might confuse it with the opening of Beethoven’s 5th (yes, I know…).

Indeed, you’ve made me realise that I don’t believe my nephew, who is well on his way to becoming an educated young man, has seen 2001.

It doesn’t sound obscure to me, but I grew up around science fiction and movie nerds.

I would, but I might get tripped up trying to imagine someone actually humming that. It doesn’t strike me as very hummable, seeing as how it’s all about the rhythm and orchestration rather than melody. Of course, you might be referring to some other part of the piece, but that famous opening is the part that everyone’s going to think of, if they recognize it at all.

Could you incorporate a reference to 2001 either from the character directly or from another character?

These types of questions always remind me of that early math problem that involves intersecting circles (don’t know what it’s called). Number of people who know about 2001: A Space Odyssey = W, number of people who know the music = X, number of people who know it’s Also sprach Zarathustra = Y. W-X-Y=Z (number of people who would get the reference).

Venn diagrams.

I was semi-surprised after clicking on the title; I assumed it was a reference to Nietzsche’s book. But, yes, 2001 is a pretty popular movie, so as long as it’s clear in your novel people are talking about music.

The first minute and a half of Also Sprach Zarathustra has become iconic because of Kubrick’s use of it. I STILL see it being used in new contexts, generally in a humorous one, even though the movie turned fifty this year. That’s some serious legs for a musical motif. So, yeah, I’d say people are still pretty familiar with it, even if they might not know where it comes from.
As for the rest of the piece, even when 2001 was at the height of its popularity, most people still never heard it. Richard Strauss’ tone poem hasn’t got any catchy bits in it (aside from that opening fanfare), and its structure is pretty loose to the untutored ear, with no melodies to catch onto. It’s a pretty challenging piece. I have a recording of it that I listened to for many years, mainly because I’m a science fiction geek and completist. But I’m the exception, rather than the rule.

A reference to the percussion section may help.

“He began to hum ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’ to himself, but realized the effect was lost without the timpani accompaniment.”

It’s an iconic piece of music, at least those first few notes, but I don’t know how many people would recognize it by name.

I suspect that most people would not be able to come up with the name from scratch but would recognize it.
Quibble: Also sprach Zarathustra is the entire work by Richard Strauss. The famous part is the Introduction.

As for me, a big 2001 fan, I hum Atmospheres.

It’s also well-known as the theme song for the wrestler Ric Flair, even if they might not know it by name.

I think a lot of readers will get it, and the ones who don’t won’t suffer overmuch. I can enjoy “A-Sitting on a Gate” without knowing the tune to “I Give Thee All, I Can No More.”

Certainly I am used to having references I don’t entirely get, and I hope (not for my own sake but for society’s) that this is normal; and a piece of music (especially one in the public domain and as ubiquitous as this one) is one of the easiest to look up.

Probably relatively few would know the title, but most would recognize it as the song from 2001, given at least the first five notes (before the timpani comes in, even). And it’s not really hard to hum at all.

But recognizing it based off of hearing it, and recognizing it based on a written description are two different beasts.

Most people would probably recognize it after the second note, with the third octave being only needed for confirmation, but how do you translate “Dunnnn…Dunnnn…Dunnnn” in your head if you don’t know what song it is to yet?

I was well aware of the song before having ever seen the movie. (Didn’t see it until the year 2000.) It just shows up everywhere in pop culture, or at least did in the 80s and 90s, my formative years. I just asked two adults in the room, one born in 1977, the other in 1981. Both recognized the song, one knew it was from 2001, neither had seen it.

Ahhh…TY! I looked up it up and remembered it being called sets. I’ve never heard the proper name. Do you know if they still teach this in school? I’ve used it to illustrate some examples with younger people and they had no clue what I was talking about.

Agreed. To the vast majority of those who recognize it (still a minority of the population, I suspect), it will be because of 2001, just as most people who hear Rossini’s William Tell overture will think of The Lone Ranger.

What’s The Lone Ranger?

I don’t think it will be specifically because of 2001, but rather cultural references to it. Like I said, I had never seen 2001 until the year 2000 (or possibly even 2001, I don’t remember exactly) and was well aware of the theme as a child, because it just shows up everywhere in at least American pop culture. I mean, how many people know HAL without having seen the movie? How many people do you think even saw the movie? It’s a slow slog of a movie (though I loved it) and I doubt even 5% of my friends had actually seen it, but I’d guess 90% of them would recognize those opening notes.

ETA: I’m guessing The Electric Company is where I first encountered the tune, but in the 80s (that clip is apparently from 1971. Had no idea Electric Company was that old.)