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CLEOPATRA – Alex North

October 23, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy

20th Century Fox had descended into financial troubles in the late 1950s due to a string of poorly performing films. They decided to regain the glory of their past by remaking one of their prior gems – the 1917 film Cleopatra . They needed a producer to bring the film to fruition, and when veteran Walter Wanger approached the studio to tell the story of Cleopatra, an astounding synergy was realized. He tasked Joseph Mankiewicz with directing, and Ranald MacDougall and Sidney Buchman joined him in fashioning the script. Mankiewicz’s original conception was to make two, three-hour films; Caesar and Cleopatra, and Anthony and Cleopatra. He was however overruled by the studio who insisted on a single film. A cast for the ages was assembled with Elizabeth Taylor playing the titular role of Cleopatra. Supporting her would be Richard Burton as Marc Anthony, Rex Harrison as Julius Caesar, Roddy McDowell as Octavian, and Martin Landau as Rufio.

The tragic story is set in 48 BCE when Julius Caesar has defeated his nemesis Pompey, who challenged him for supremacy of the Roman state. When Pompey flees to Egypt, Caesar pursues him, and arrives to be greeted with the horrific gift of Pompey’s severed head by the young Pharaoh Ptolemy XIII. What unfolds is a romance of the ages as Caesar becomes beguiled by the young co-ruler Cleopatra’s beauty. He dethrones Ptolemy, installs Cleopatra as Queen and marries her. She bears him his long coveted heir Caesarion and they resolve upon a grand ambition, to create a great empire under their joint rule. Caesar brings her to Rome as his consort, yet the relationship is doomed as senators assassinate him after he insists on becoming Emperor. Cleopatra flees Rome for the safety of Egypt, and soon begins a new romance with Roman Proconsul, Marc Anthony, who has also succumbed to her seductive beauty.

Cleopatra’s ambition has not diminished, and she convinces Anthony to join her in creating a great kingdom of the east. This ambition brings them into direct conflict with Rome, which dispatches an army to challenge Anthony for his treason. Octavian and Anthony contest a great sea battle in which Anthony is defeated after he abandons his command in a pathetic pursuit of Cleopatra’s departing barge. As Roman armies converge on Alexandria, Anthony’s meager troops desert, and he kills himself rather than face the disgrace of capture. After dying in her arms, Cleopatra also commits suicide to deny Octavian his trophy, allowing herself to be bitten by a poisonous asp. The film nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox, but it eventually managed to recoup its costs with worldwide distribution. The film secured critical acclaim, earning nine Academy Award nominations, winning four for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume and Best Special Visual Effects.

Christopher Mankiewicz, son of the director, was greatly impressed by Alex North’s critically acclaimed score to Spartacus. He believed he would expertly support his father’s ambition and so recommended him to score the film. North was hired very early in the project and had a year to research and conceptualize his score. With Mankiewicz’s blessing he chose to remain true to himself and not embrace a traditional thematic and consonant Golden Age sensibility, instead offering a more modernist tone. He would provide harsh and jagged rhythms, strident dissonance and a more discordant articulation, which focused not on Cleopatra’s beauty or her romantic relationships with Caesar and later Anthony, but instead on what drove and motivated her – unbridled ambition. North also understood that the film was character driven drama and that his music would need a more intimate expression and focus. Instructive is the juxtaposition of exotic percussion and woodwind rich Egyptian music with the martial fanfare of the Roman state. To realize his vision, North integrated into the traditional orchestra an astounding assembly of exotic instruments, which would infuse his soundscape with the auras of Egypt, including; a broad spectrum of drums, tambourine, sistrum, gamelan, an array of traditional, cow and tubular bells, chimes, suspended cymbals and triangles, crotales, gongs, guitar, harps, harpsichord, quartets of mandolin, flute, oboe and bassoon, and a chorale of saxophones.

North created four themes to express the film’s narrative, three of which derive from Cleopatra. Central to her nature and motivations is the Ambition Theme, to which all other emotions are subordinated. She seeks a grand destiny of power and uses her beauty and seductive allure to ensnare men of power to achieve that end. It emotes with a serpentine sensibility, with seductive rhythms born by low register strings, and adorned with an exotic array of tambourine, horns, guitar, mandolin and harp. There are two love themes, which stand juxtaposed, as different in their sensibilities as are the two men who love her. The Caesar and Cleopatra Love Theme, emotes from her perspective, and within the sinews of its construct subtly resides a kernel of the Ambition Theme. This theme is not ardent, passionate, nor overtly romantic as Cleopatra’s relationship with Caesar is born of political expediency – through him, she rises. The theme is portentous, and we immediately discern an ode to what could have been. Plaintive woodwinds and strings delicato carry the wistful melodic line, adorned with harp, harpsichord and a shimmering metallic effervescence.

Rendered in classic ABA form its A Phrase is plaintive, while its B Phrase is yearning as it struggles and fails to blossom, succumbing to a fate, which cannot be forestalled. The Anthony and Cleopatra Love Theme shares a sadness with the Caesar and Cleopatra Love Theme, although it is more overtly romantic in its sensibilities. Cleopatra is clearly using Anthony to secure greater power, however she is also in love, and so, vulnerable. Warm strings adorned with harp, woodwinds tenero and metallic percussion offer a tender beauty, which carries us softly, yet it lacks ardor, passion, and never culminates to achieve fulfillment. Lastly, we have the scores most tragic theme, the Ignominy Theme. It informs us of the dissolution of Marc Anthony born of the ignominy of his desertion in battle, an act, which for a Roman general, is unforgiveable. The theme is painful in its articulation carried by writhing strings afflitti and blaring horns affannato. It speaks of an unbearable humiliation and dishonor, which can only be assuaged by death. Lastly, Mankiewicz instilled artistry into his film with a scene change device where a painting is transformed into a live shot. North supported this transformation with a stepped ascending crescendo.

“Overture” offers a set piece designed to play prior to the start of the film. North provides a full, and extended rendering of the Ambition Theme, which clearly informs us that this is Cleopatra’s story. The exotic auras, ethnic richness and serpentine rhythms offer one of the score’s most beautiful moments. “Main Title” offers a beautiful score highlight, which features a full and extended rendering of the Caesar and Cleopatra Love Theme. It is expressed as an ABAB statement, which supports the roll of the opening credits, set to painted images of ancient Rome and Egypt. At 2:07 North provides a stepped crescendo to support the final painted image, which slowly changes form to a live shot of the battlefield at Pharsalia. In “Pharsalia” narration informs us of Caesar’s triumph over Pompey. It is not a celebratory moment as he laments the slaughter of fellow Romans. North supports the scene from Caesar’s perspective, offering a grim dirge carried by low register strings and muted snare drums. At 0:47 trumpeting fanfare heralds the arrival of a courier with news of Pompey’s fate. In “Caesar to Egypt” Caesar resolves to pursue the fugitive Pompey who has fled to Egypt. Portentous horns support his command that Anthony return to Rome and rule in his name while he takes two legions to Alexandria. The stepped crescendo supports a scene change, which ushers in at 1:08 exotic dancing pizzicato rhythms, trilling horns and dissonant woodwinds that carry the arrival of Caesar’s ship in Alexandria’s harbor.

“The VIPs” reveals reverberating gongs and regal trumpeting fan fare, which supports the arrival of the Egyptian royal court. At 0:23 we segue into “King Ptolemy” atop gong strikes and a reprise of the trumpeting fanfare, which supports the arrival of Pharaoh Ptolemy XIII. “Pompey’s Ring” reveals a terrible miscalculation by the Pharaoh who mistakenly offers Caesar first the ring of Pompey, and then his severed head to curry favor. Caesar displays revulsion at the savagery and desecration of an iconic Roman general. He assigns Roman guards to Pharaoh, demands rooms in the palace, and tasks Rufio with locating Pompey’s body for a proper Roman funeral. North sows the dark pall of death, a threnody with grim low register strings and muted trumpets as Pompey’s head is displayed. The music becomes aggrieved as Caesar achieves victory in the most horrific way possible. Pulsing horns and dissonant percussive strikes carry Rufio’s departure and Caesar’s entry into the palace. In “A Gift for Caesar” Apollodorus brings to Caesar a gift, a rug, which when unrolled spills out Cleopatra. North supports her arrival and first meeting with Caesar with the Ambition Theme, subtlety woven by alto flute and metallic percussion, mandolin and shimmering accents, which twinkle. “Only Yesterday” reveals Cleopatra’s entreaty to Caesar that he depose her brother and make he sole ruler of Egypt. A subdued rendering of the Ambition Theme supports the scene, which North fills with portentous woodwinds of uncertainty.

“Epilepsy” is an ever-shifting multi-scenic cue, which offers drama for which North provides intense emotive power. Cleopatra secretly spies on Caesar through a hidden eye portal. A nascent fragment of their Love Theme on flute informs us of her designs. Caesar is fatigued and stressed, conditions that precipitate and epileptic seizure, which she witnesses. Flavius comes to his aid as we see writhing in pain on the floor. North supports his suffering with writhing strings afflitti, harsh drum strikes and horns affannato. In a scene change at 1:42 soft woodwind textures play as Cleopatra contemplates exploiting an opportunity. We shift back harshly at 1:52 as Flavius takes Caesar to bed. At 2:10 in Cleopatra’s bath chamber where she receives a massage, attended to by minstrels. We end with shifting scenes of Caesar and Cleopatra sleeping in their separate chambers, his supported by plaintive auras, and hers, contemplation.

In “Great Library” Caesar has set fire to the Egyptian fleet in the great harbor and the conflagration has spread to the shore, engulfing the great library. Muted dissonant horn fare and sparkling percussion sound the alarm, and fuel Cleopatra’s outrage, which leads her to confront Caesar for his crime against civilization. Repeating plaintive woodwind ascents, which crest in shimmering textures, speak to the conflagration. Caesar has had enough of Cleopatra’s insolence, succumbs to her allure, and takes her into his arms to kiss. The moment is lost as his officers sound the alarm of an attack. North bathes us in a grim, dissonant darkness replete with muted trumpet calls, which portend the coming battle. “Moon Gate” offers an astounding score highlight, the film’s first action scene, which North supports with a modernist tour de force. Loyalist Egyptian troops have attacked the Moon Gate to the royal enclosure. Snare drums and dire horns calls usher in the Love Theme, which supports Caesar’s departure and Cleopatra’s ensnarement of his affections. He orders an attack on catapults pummeling the gate with a phalanx turtle formation. What unfolds is a cacophonous discordant storm of snare drum percussion empowered by strident horns, dissonant strings, metallic percussion, trilling piccolos, and militant drum strikes abounding in an astounding aural dysrhythmia and chaos. The attack wins the day and the battle.

In “Taste of Death” Cleopatra’s taster is exposed attempting to serve her poison at Pothinus’ command. After forgiving the transgression, Cleopatra orders her to drink, resulting in her death. North belies the menace of the assassination with ambient writing replete with shimmering metallic percussion, discordant flute, harpsichord and plaintive kindred woodwinds, which sow a portentous grim ending to the servant. “Sympathy” reveals the reunion of Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy in the throne room. Caesar condemns Pothinus to death, and banishes Ptolemy, thus making Cleopatra sole ruler of Egypt. Now left alone, Caesar is fatigued and worries of another epileptic fit. North speaks to his fears by sowing unease and tension. Cleopatra fetches his bite block stick and displays a genuine sympathy, which moves him to embrace and kiss. A plaintive oboe carries the Love Theme to support the tender moment. In “Coronation” Cleopatra sits upon the throne in regal splendor, attended by her court and the Romans as Caesar crowns her queen. As they all kneel in adoration, Caesar joins at her request, which offends his fellow Romans. North does score the scene in the traditional manner with regal fanfare and celebratory writing, instead offering ambient gossamer like subtlety in the form of a shimmering shower of ethereal metallic percussion and bells.

“Fertility” offers a score highlight where Cleopatra understands Caesar’s vulnerability, and seduces him to make love with the promise that she will bear him many sons. The interlude is intimate, and North supports the seduction with a subtle rendering of the Ambition Theme. As Caesar succumbs to her beauty and promises, the Caesar and Cleopatra Love Theme unfolds for a beautiful statement. In “Alexander’s Tomb” Caesar and Cleopatra visit the legend’s tomb. She reveals her ambition by exhorting him to take up Alexander’s grand design to conquer the world. He demurs citing his age of 52, but she wins him over when she announces that she bears his son who will carry his mantle. North speaks not to their conversation, but rather to the future events, which will not bring happiness, only tragedy. We are bathed in darkness, unease and a grim discordance, as Cleopatra’s ambition sows the seeds of Caesars destruction. Roman fan fare carries a scene change in “Calpurnia” where we see Marc Anthony riding to Caesar’s estate outside of Rome. Calpurnia informs him that she already knows that Caesar has married Cleopatra and that she bears his son. North sows a threnody born exquisitely by divided strings, which speak to her resignation.

“The Fire Burns” reveals Cleopatra’s priestess foretelling the birth of a son, which will unite Rome and Egypt’s destinies. But she grimaces as they depart with her final words, “Here shall he find his destiny.” Once again North is portentous, and plays against what we see. Caesar and Cleopatra rejoice at the prophecy, yet what we hear is dark, discordant, and grim, a harbinger of doom. At 1:11 we segue into “Son of Caesar” where the mood shifts atop the Ambition Theme as Cleopatra gives birth and her son is presented to, and publically accepted by Caesar. An eerie twinkling metallic percussion and harpsichord trills usher in fan fare as Caesar rejoices that he has a son. In “Caesar’s Departure” we open with a brazen and discordant rendering of the Ambition Theme as the Romans leave their girls and prepare for departure. Flute tenero bearing the Love Theme supports a scene change to the palace where Caesar and Cleopatra say their farewells. She cannot bear to see him go and begs him to send for them, as Rome must see Caesar’s son. A plaintive rendering of the Love Theme on oboe supports the sorrow of his departure.

“Cleopatra Enters Rome” offers an astounding score highlight. Roman soldiers declare with regal heraldic trumpeting fan fare Cleopatra’s imminent arrival to the forum. A parade of dance troupes are unleashed, one after the other for a magnificent spectacle. North supports the scene with a festive danza esotica, which fully matches the visual splendor. At 1:07 a nativist percussive torrent is unleashed as African dancers perform colorful acrobatics. At 2:16 exotic rhythms carry standard bearers and angelic attendants who escort a shining pyramid. The music builds to a glorious repeating crescendo as the pyramid opens to release doves, the bird of peace. At 3:35 regal fan fare announces the arrival of Cleopatra’s massive Sphinx carriage, and the Ambition Theme resounds as a marcia grandioso born by horns bravura, and empowered by the marching snare drum cadence of the hundreds of men pulling her carriage. She shimmers in a gold leaf dress, and this scene for the ages offers a perfect marriage of music and cinematography. “By Divine Right” reveals Caesar meeting with key senators at his home, where he makes an impassioned soliloquy, which ends with the demand to be declared Emperor. The senators are taken aback and depart. North lets Caesar’s oratory shine and carry the scene with music only entering in the aftermath. His music is portentous as he provides a dissonant and grieving elegy by strings affannato, a dark threnody to be realized tomorrow, on the Ides of March.

“Death in the Garden” reveals the dead body of a moneychanger being tossed into Caesar’s garden, which frightens Caesarion. An orchestral stinger ushers in a plaintive and dissonant deconstruction of the Ambition Theme as Cleopatra’s grand plans begin to unravel. “Caesar’s Assassination” offers a score highlight, and one which North believes is one of the best scored scenes of his career. We see Caesar’s fated end through Cleopatra’s eyes, a vision born within the incense smoke of her priestess’ chamber. A gentle but plaintive rendering of the Love Theme carries his progress to the Senate. At 1:19 grim woodwinds usher in a slowly swelling tide of dissonance and ominous strings as Cleopatra sees within the smoke Caesars arrival, where he becomes separated from Marc Anthony. The assassins surround him and one by one thrust their knives, striking him down. North creates a crescendo of death, a horrific torrent of pain born of strings afflitti and shrieking horns. “Requiem” reveals Marc Anthony rendering Caesar up for burial by fire, in accordance with Roman traditions. Powerful drum strikes support regal fan fare bravura, which resound to mark Caesar’s passing, replete with tolling bells as frenzied people add more and more kindling to intensify the fire. In “Farewell” Cleopatra and Caesarion depart Rome by boat on the river Tiber. Anthony sees her off and promises to avenge Caesar’s assassins. She rebukes him for reading his will that declares Octavian Caesar’s heir, not Caesarion. As she departs the Love Theme, rendered by solo oboe and kindred woodwinds carries her progress. Strings of regret carry the B Phrase as she departs from view, closing with a nascent fragment of a portentous Anthony and Cleopatra Love Theme as Intermission displays on the screen. “Entr’acte” offers a beautiful and sumptuous rendering of the Caesar and Cleopatra Love Theme.

Act II opens with harsh discordance in “Hail Antony”. Martial drums thunder as narration informs us that after two years that Marc Anthony has avenged Caesar’s death by killing Casius, the last of the assassins at the battle of Philippi. “Isis” reveals Cleopatra overseeing the commemoration ceremony where Caesar’s statue is venerated as a deity. North supports the scene with a plaintive fragment of their Love Theme. In “Cleopatra’s Barge” Anthony is broke and needs money and assistance from Egypt. Cleopatra agrees to meet him hallway, in the port or Tarsus to negotiate terms. Town folk are awestruck as her grand glistening golden barge sails into the harbor. North supports the magnificent imagery with grandeur, born of a full rendering of the Ambition Theme. “Most Becoming” reveals Anthony boarding Cleopatra’s barge for a dinner reception. The compliment each other on their attire and North supports the moment with a rendering of their Love Theme, carried by strings delicato. In “Food” a gong ushers in the meal where a sumptuous amount of exotic food is brought in, supported by soft dance like rhythms.

“Antony and Cleopatra in Tarsus” reveals them engaging in banter, as both try to discern the others motives. The Ambition Theme carries the scene, informing us that Cleopatra still harbors grand designs. We see in Anthony’s eyes that he has succumbed to her beauty, and their Love Theme struggles to coalesce, yet fails, as he is not forthright as Caesar in expressing it. In “Bacchus” Anthony has become drunk as he watches entertainment, which features exotic dancers, which pull him to the dance floor. North supports the scene with a decadent danza esotica. In his drunken state Anthony is seduced by a Cleopatra double, whom he rejects. When he looks to the dais he sees that Cleopatra has left and an anguished rendering of their Love Theme reveals his distraught. He bursts into her bedchamber in “Antony and Cleopatra’s Love”, only to still find her wearing a necklace of coins bearing Caesar’s image, which enrages him. After he speaks of the pain of living in Caesar’s shadow, she sees an opening and compliments him, so as to bring him too her. He tears the necklace off her and they embrace in love with an optimistic rendering of their Love Theme carrying the moment.

“One Breath Closer” offers one of the score’s most beautiful cues. Octavian is consolidating power in Rome and Cleopatra exhorts Anthony to return and defend his interests. They cannot bear to part and North speaks to their love with a beautiful and sumptuous rendering of their Love Theme, which features exquisite writing for strings. In “Love and Hate” we bear witness to another score highlight. Word comes that Anthony has secured ten legions, dominion over the east, which is secured by a political marriage to Octavian’s sister Octavia. Cleopatra is devastated and cries out in pain for his betrayal. In a rage she takes knife and savagely slashes his uniforms, and then, her bed. We open darkly with a plaintive rendering of the Love Theme, which gives way to an impassioned crescendo of pain born by anguished strings. As she collapses in agony the Love Theme dissipates on solo oboe and strings affannato. The scene offers a stunning confluence of acting, narrative and music! In “Athens” Anthony realizes the hollowness of his life in his pretend marriage with Octavia. Rapprochement with Cleopatra has failed, as all his envoys have been turn back. Plaintive woodwinds weave despair with the Ambition Theme, reflecting Anthony’s inner thoughts as he dines with Octavia. The Love Theme again struggles to break forth in a truly sad and tortured statement, which ends with Anthony’s decision to return to Alexandria. In “Cleopatra’s Ambition” Cleopatra exploits Anthony’s love for her, to bend him to her purpose. They are to marry, declare Caesarian King of Egypt and cede one third of the Roman Empire to Egypt. This sows the seeds of their destruction as it precipitates a war with Octavian. The Ambition Theme emotes on sumptuous strings, which supports her ambition, and portends their doom. Octavian stokes outrage in the senate in “War”, and the harsh fan fare of war resounds as he throws the Roman Spear of War into Cleopatra’s envoy, Sosigenes’ chest.

In “Interlude” the subtext is that Anthony’s heart is not in the battle, as he never wanted to wage war against Rome. He has twice the number of men, and against the counsel of his officers, chooses to fight Octavian in a naval battle on ships, which mitigates his numerical advantage. This fateful decision ensures his defeat, as the Roman ships are smaller, faster and more maneuverable. A dark and dissonant soliloquy by strings sows despair and doom as Cleopatra stands by, a helpless witness to Anthony’s self-destruction. At 0:44 drums of war propel us into “Sea Battle”, which offers a massive and astounding 13-minute action cue. Phrasing of the Ambition Theme is woven throughout the cue, as the battle is Cleopatra’s handiwork. Anthony attacks the Roman center, breaks through and engages Octavian’s flagship. North unleashes a modernist torrent of percussive rhythms, chattering woodwinds, sawing strings and horns bellicoso. At 3:55 a grim and aggressive percussive line is unleashed as Anthony closes in to ram Octavian’s ship. A chorus of blaring horns rage as Anthony fights a man wearing Octavian’s armor hand to hand. Yet dissonant strings writhe as he finds that he has been deceived, and that Octavian is not aboard. At 7:55 Roman horn fare resounds as Admiral Agrippa orders the fleet to descend upon Anthony’s ship, which is aflame and cut-off. Strings and drums join in a tortured rhythm as news is brought to Cleopatra of Anthony’s predicament. A repeating horn line resounds and snare drums usher in blaring discordant horns of doom as we see the tide of battle turning against Anthony. At 9:38 strings scordatura writhe in anguish offering the Love Theme as a tormented elegy when Cleopatra is brought news of Anthony’s death. A grotesque Ambition Theme rendered as an ostinato carries Cleopatra’s flight to Egypt. At 12:24 strings affannato, which carry the Love Theme, cry out in agony as Anthony sees Cleopatra departure. He abandons his command, and the tortured and discordant cadence of the Ignominy Theme carries his disgrace as his shuttle rows through countless desperate drowning men.

“My Love Is My Master” is a score highlight, and what I believe to be, it’s most emotional cue. We open with the pathos of the Ignominy Theme as Anthony looks back from Cleopatra barge and collapses in agony at the sight of his burning fleet. At 1:08 we change scenes to the sight of Anthony wandering by the seaside, disconsolate, a ghost amongst the living. A forlorn rendering of the Ignominy Theme carries his progress. At 1:38 we segue to the throne room where Cleopatra beseeches him to forgive her for fleeing. She weeps and collapses, stating that she thought he was dead. He does not console her and departs stating, that he is dead. North supports the anguished pathos of our lovers with a beautiful soliloquy first by flute and then oboe emoting the Ignominy Theme as a threnody. An anguished conclusion on their Love Theme carries Anthony’s cold departure. At 3:55 we change scenes atop martial snare drums, which support Octavian leading his legions into Egypt. In “Two Heads” Agrippa offers Cleopatra a promise of peace by Octavian on the condition that she surrenders Anthony. As Anthony watches from the shadows, she refuses and with contempt, informs him that Octavian may have two heads or none. Dark strings, which become dire, emote the Ignominy Theme, as Agrippa departs and Anthony scurries for cover. “Better Late Than Never” is cathartic as an impassioned Anthony speaks of the ignominy, which crushes his soul. Now unburdened, he reconciles with Cleopatra who convinces him to resume command of his legions and redeem himself in battle. North supports the aftermath of Anthony’s soliloquy with a full rendering of the Love Theme, which begins tentatively and then blossoms for one of its finest statements. In “Cleopatra’s Son” she gives Caesarion Caesar’s signet ring and orders her guards to escort him safely out of Egypt. A forlorn rendering of the Ambition Theme supports the scene, sad recognition that all is lost. At 1:28 we segue atop repeating horn bravura fanfare into “Antony’s Camp” as a confident Anthony rides into his troop encampment.

“Never Fear” offers great pathos as Anthony plans for tomorrow’s battle where his two legions will face off against Octavian’s twenty. He does not care as gaining an honorable death is his goal, not victory. He then retires, asking Rufio to wake him before dawn. North supports the scene portentously with a grim rendering of the Ignominy Theme. At 1:03 metallic percussion carry the sun’s dawn rays over Anthony’s face, as he wakes to find the camp deserted. As he contemplates his fate, the Ignominy Theme resounds with a terrible resolve, crescendoing in tortured agony as he discovers Rufio’s corpse. In “Grant Me An Honorable Way to Die” we bear witness to an astounding score highlight, one of the best cues in North’s canon. Harsh drums and horns of doom carry the approach of Octavian’s cavalry. Anthony rides forth alone to challenge Octavian. He charges and attacks his guards, yet they only parry, refusing to fight back. Anthony yells repeatedly, “Fight”, yet to no avail. Slowly, yet inexorably a grim drum cadence support horns affannato, which crescendo powerfully with agonizing pain. As Anthony cries out “Will no one grant Anthony an honorable death?”, trumpets resound with searing anguish as his plea is unanswered, ending with a sustain of hopelessness.

In “Antony’s Retreat” a grim rendering of the Ignominy Theme supports a defeated Anthony who tosses his proconsul baton into the sand with disdain, and rides back to join Cleopatra. Octavian allows Anthony to ride away, telling Agrippa that he will take them both together. At 0:23 we segue into “Transitions” as we see people fleeing Alexandria as Cleopatra seals herself in her tomb. A grim drum cadence, horns of sorrows and plaintive strings support her entombment. At 1:03 martial horns and snare drums support Octavian’s ride into Alexandria. We see him bearing the corpse of Caesarion as he places on his finger Julius Caesar’s signet ring. At 1:31 snare drums and horn fare carry Anthony to the royal enclosure, closing with a dark diminuendo as he enters. In “Dying Is Less Than Love” Apollodorus informs him that Cleopatra may be found in her tomb. Believing her dead, he thrust his sword into his abdomen to end his life. Yet, Apollodorus breaks down and informs Anthony that Cleopatra is alive, and waits for him. He takes Anthony to her and they are reunited one last time. Now a truly pathetic figure, he confesses his undying love for her and expires in her arms. North supports their final moments together with a parting plaintive reprise of their Love Theme.

In “Octavian the Victor” we open with celebratory fanfare as Octavian is reunited with Cleopatra. A plaintive rendering of her and Anthony’s Love Theme plays as Octavian relishes his triumph and declares his intention to bring her with him to Rome. At 2:17 grim darkness unfolds, as she see’s the signet ring she gave to Caesarion on Octavian’s hand. Plaintive fragments of her and Caesar’s Love Theme struggle, yet fail to coalesce as he swears to protect her, and she swears on the life of her son, not to harm herself. “Anthony…Wait” reveals Cleopatra committing suicide by a lethal asp bite, to deny Octavian his trophy, and to spite him for the murder of her son. Grim dissonance supports the suicide and gives way to a dance like rendering of her and Anthony’s Love Theme. She longs to be reunited with Anthony and as we see her life ebbing, a wistful rendering of the Caesar and Cleopatra Love Theme returns and carries her passing. In “Epilogue” Octavian is enraged to discover that Cleopatra has committed suicide. He finds her in resplendent repose, wearing her shimmering gold dress. Denied of his trophy, he departs in disgust. We end with Agrippa asking Charmian “Was this well done of your lady?”, with her reply, “Extremely well, befitting the last of so many noble rulers.” North brings the film to closure reverently, with soft interplay of the Ambition and Caesar and Cleopatra Love Themes. “Exit Music” offers a full and sumptuous rendering of the Anthony and Cleopatra Love Theme, intended to support the exit of the audience.

I commend and thank Nick Redman, Robert Townson and Lukas Kendall for this magnificent release of the complete score to Alex North masterpiece, Cleopatra. The digital remastering is superb and the sound quality, excellent. This score stands as one of the most extraordinary ever composed for film. North chose to remain true to himself and not embrace a traditional thematic and consonant Golden Age sensibility, instead offering a more strident and modernist tone. He would provide harsh exotic percussive and jagged ethnic rhythms, dissonance, and a more discordant articulation. This was a character driven story where we saw the intersection of the powerful emotional drivers of love and ambition. To support the film’s narrative North composed four primary themes; there are two love themes, which speak of Cleopatra’s relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony, a theme for Cleopatra’s ambition, and a theme for Mark Anthony’s ignominy and humiliation. In scene after scene North enhanced the film’s action, drama and story telling. This effort joins Spartacus as one of the two greatest scores of North’s canon, and is a masterwork of the Silver Age. I believe it to be, an essential score for your collection, and I highly recommend its purchase.

For those of you unfamiliar, I have embedded a YouTube link to its exotic Overture, which offers a full rendering of the films most powerful and animating theme, Cleopatra’s Ambition Theme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLgjcIE9u0M&list=PLB8golncjlCycqywKdUgp4eCsv1KX6Bod

Buy the Cleopatra soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Overture (2:42)
  • Main Title (2:51)
  • Pharsalia (1:17)
  • Caesar to Egypt (1:57)
  • The VIPs/King Ptolemy (0:59)
  • Pompey’s Ring (2:53)
  • A Gift for Caesar (1:51)
  • Only Yesterday (1:31)
  • Epilepsy (3:20)
  • Great Library (2:05)
  • Moon Gate (4:20)
  • Taste of Death (1:47)
  • Sympathy (1:45)
  • Coronation (1:51)
  • Fertility (4:49)
  • Alexander’s Tomb (3:45)
  • Calpurnia (1:59)
  • The Fire Burns/Son of Caesar (3:43)
  • Caesar’s Departure (3:40)
  • Cleopatra Enters Rome (6:49)
  • By Divine Right (2:06)
  • Death in the Garden (1:44)
  • Caesar’s Assassination (4:57)
  • Requiem (1:32)
  • Farewell (1:39)
  • Entr’acte (Caesar & Cleopatra) (2:32)
  • Hail Antony (3:12)
  • Isis (1:23)
  • Love Theme (Reprise) (0:30)
  • Cleopatra’s Barge (2:54)
  • Most Becoming (1:38)
  • Food (0:54)
  • Antony and Cleopatra in Tarses (3:38)
  • Bacchus (2:41)
  • Antony and Cleopatra’s Love (3:10)
  • One Breath Closer (2:40)
  • Love and Hate (2:16)
  • Athens (2:37)
  • Cleopatra’s Ambition (1:15)
  • War (0:44)
  • Interlude/Sea Battle (14:36)
  • My Love Is My Master (4:17)
  • Two Heads (0:46)
  • Better Late Than Never (2:37)
  • Cleopatra’s Son/Antony’s Camp (2:19)
  • Never Fear (3:16)
  • Grant Me An Honorable Way To Die (2:37)
  • Antony’s Retreat/Transitions (2:02)
  • Dying Is Less Than Love (4:26)
  • Octavian the Victor (4:05)
  • Antony… Wait (3:55)
  • Epilogue (2:25)
  • Exit Music (Antony and Cleopatra) (2:26)

Running Time: 149 minutes 43 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-6224 (1963/2001)

Music composed and conducted by Alex North. Orchestrations by Ken Alex North, Henry Brant, Herbert W. Spencer and David Tamkin. Score produced by Alex North and Lionel Newman. Album produced by Nick Redman, Robert Townson and Lukas Kendall.

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