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The Cleopatra Galop

A sample of the scores in our collection:

The Cleopatra Galop

by Charles d’Albert

The version of The Cleopatra Galop that the What’s the Score at the Bodleian? project is digitizing has a cover featuring a big obelisk, not unlike Cleopatra’s Needle, the famous London landmark.Cover of Cleopatra Galop

Cleopatra’s Needle is an ancient Egyptian obelisk that can be seen in London. It was presented to the United Kingdom in 1819 but it took almost sixty years before it was actually moved from Egypt to the UK. The move was both expensive and dramatic. A special vessel was built to hold the 68 foot tall stone, and this iron cylinder – which was dubbed the Cleopatra – was then to be towed to London. The whole venture nearly ended with failure on 14 October 1877 when the vessel and tow were hit by a storm in the Bay of Biscay. Six men drowned when trying to save the Cleopatra, and the vessel with the obelisk was thought lost.  She was, however, found a few days later and on 21 January 1878 the Cleopatra with her valuable cargo arrived in London. The obelisk was erected on the Victoria Embankment on 12 September 1878. (source Wikipedia 1 Sept 2011)

The Cleopatra Galop was written by Charles d’Albert, a prolific composer of the time and former dance-master. The piece is advertised as ‘new dance music’ in the New Zealand The Hawke’s Bay Herald from 19 April 1878 (Volume XXI, Issue 50417, page 1), so it must have been written well before then to allow time for the scores to be printed and then transported all the way to Napier. D’Albert’s music was not infrequently inspired by contemporary events and it is easy to imagine that the move of the Egyptian obelisk may have influenced this piece. It could also be the case that the piece was simply a reflection of the Victorian fascination with all things oriental and that the cover is a later addition, perhaps to a later re-print? The obelisk was, after all, only erected in September 1878 – several months after the arrival of the scores in New Zealand.

In this recording of The Cleopatra Galop made for the What’s the Score at the Bodleian? project, we hear Tim Hawken on the piano. You can read about the recording session when this and other pieces were recorded in our  ‘So that’s what they sound like…’ blog post. More project recordings and down-loadable versions of the Cleopatra Galop and other scores are available on the project webpage.

logo: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence This recording is released with the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence. It can be reused and redistributed globally provided that it is used in a non-commercial way and the reuse is attributed to “What’s the Score at the Bodleian?” and Tim Hawken. If you derive a new work from the recording, the new work may be distributed provided it is released under the same licence.

  1. December 21, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    The cover of d’Albert’s ‘Cleopatra Galop’ actually shows a full size painted wooden model of Cleopatra’s Needle which was set up in Parliament Square. It was in place by January 1878, when it was shown in the Illustrated London News. Parliament Square was the preferred site for the obelisk, but had to be abandoned because the directors of the Metropolitan Railway demanded a perpetual indemnity against the obelisk collapsing into the tube tunnel underneath. See pages 123 and 127 of my book ‘Egypt in England’.

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