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1997 Tsunami

2001 Varèse

Composed and Conducted by:
Alex North

2001 Album Co-Produced by:
Nick Redman

2001 Album Co-Produced and Designed by:
Robert Townson

2001 Album Restoration Co-Produced by:
Lukas Kendall

2001 Album Remixed and Arranged by:
Michael McDonald

2001 Album Notes by:
Jeff Bond

Labels and Dates:
Varèse Sarabande
(March 20th, 2001)

Tsunami (Germany)
(August 4th, 1997)

Also See:

Audio Clips:
2001 Album:

CD1, 1. Overture (0:30):
WMA (195K)  MP3 (242K)
Real Audio (150K)

CD1, 26. Entr'acte (Caesar & Cleopatra) (0:30):
WMA (195K)  MP3 (242K)
Real Audio (150K)

CD2, 12. Interlude/Sea Battle (0:30):
WMA (197K)  MP3 (242K)
Real Audio (150K)

CD2, 24. Exit Music (Antony & Cleopatra) (0:34):
WMA (213K)  MP3 (263K)
Real Audio (164K)

The German Tsunami album of 1997 was limited to 2222 copies, but became readily available on the secondary market upon the debut of the 2001 Varèse Sarabande album, which is a regular U.S. release. That 2001 album, however, fell out of print itself within a few years.

  Nominated for an Academy Award and a Grammy Award.

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Buy it... if you wish to hear Alex North's percussive mastery balanced well by two extremely romantic themes, creating a bridge between two ages of Hollywood film scoring.

Avoid it... on the Tsunami CD release of the 1990's, which was overwhelmed by a far superior remastering of the score in 2001 by Varèse Sarabande.

Cleopatra: (Alex North) The ultimate studio disaster turned fiscal success, the story of the film Cleopatra's production is truly unique. Easily the most expensive film ever made at the time, the lavish and delayed completion of the project shared the international spotlight with accusations of immoral sexual relations between stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton that reached from Vatican City to the United States Congress. When combined with the gross profits that the film has managed to accumulate over the years, the hype surrounding Cleopatra has helped it become such a successful film that you see it written about in books, articles, and accounts of Hollywood history. Its immense size was awarded with numerous Academy Awards, spanning all the technical and artistic fields. While fans turned the four-hour epic into a pop culture phenomenon, many of those who were involved with the project, including Taylor herself, became so sick of Cleopatra that they refused to associate themselves with it for a long time. In the late 1990's, however, a group of those who were either involved with Cleopatra (or related to such people) launched an effort to recover the decaying film and, just as it had been so beautifully done to Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, have restored it to a condition better than its original form. The end goal of the restoration was the stunning DVD of the film that was released in 2001. With every aspect of the movie receiving attention, it is no surprise, therefore, that Alex North's score would get the full treatment as well. The original LP album for Cleopatra was an enormous success for the composer. The album spent many weeks on the nation's top selling charts, and, along with Spartacus a few years earlier, established North as the premiere composer for modern epic films. Several re-recordings of the film's two famous, main themes, many of which by pianists or string groups, turned up as elevator music in following years.

Even with all this attention from the fans, not to mention a consistent level of respect from members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, North failed to win the Oscar that year. In fact, even with North's plentitude of Academy Award nominations over his career, he would never win the award for any particular score (though he did, in 1986, become the first composer to receive a lifetime achievement award from AMPAS). In terms of scope, the score for Cleopatra was conceived in proportion to the other production elements of the film, allowing North the luxury of composing for and recording with an orchestra of unprecedented size. By luck for North, his score for Spartacus in 1960 had dealt with almost the same exact era of the Roman Republic/Empire (and even included some overlapping character references), so listeners who had become fans of Spartacus heard North resurrect half a dozen motifs and percussive elements from that score for use in Cleopatra. It was a practical move which suited both the composer and the film. Even with this overlap, North eventually wrote almost three hours of music for Cleopatra, a stunning amount of material even by today's standards. North's music for the film was very typical of the swing towards "modernism" in film music that would influence composers of the Silver Age (and especially Jerry Goldsmith). A typical North score for this genre, of course, would have rooted its spirit in the exotic use of percussion. From 1960's television documentaries such as Africa to cult sci-fi films of the 1980's such as Dragonslayer, North would maintain a proud status as the master of percussive personality, usually exploring atonality without boundaries. Whenever possible, North chose to inject his scores with the performances of rarely known percussive instruments. Later collectors of film music (those who grew up in the bronze Age of John Williams' valiant melodies and themes) find North's more obscure methods of presenting his ideas to be disorienting.

The most interesting aspect of his Cleopatra score is its combination of classic Hollywood romance and his more modern percussive experimentation. The exotic location, period, and sets of the film are balanced by an undeniable pair of love stories (which were enhanced, of course, by the off-screen behavior of its stars), and some film music scholars have described the Cleopatra score as having a tense, raw sexuality in its tone. This is an interesting observation, because this lust in the music is the direct result of the bridging of the Golden Age of Hollywood romance themes with the more edgy, unconventional, Silver Age period of cross-genre exploration. As the suicide scenes at the end of the film reach their climax, North unleashes some of the most engaging and harmonic material of his entire career. There has always remained a debate about which of the two love themes of the film is superior, though it seems that opinions sway favorably towards "Antony and Cleopatra" in the second half of the film over "Caesar and Cleopatra" from the first. Even with the romance of the film agonizingly played out by the strings of the orchestra, Cleopatra is still not a score that will be easily accessible to the soundtrack collectors of the Digital Age. If you seek an epic score from the same period that provides more blatant thematic material, then Maurice Jarre's 1962 work for Lawrence of Arabia is a safer bet. But Alex North has a very healthy following of fans, even in the decades after the end of his career. After the original LP record disappeared from the stores, North's score for Cleopatra was largely unknown to new film score collectors up to and after his death. Then, in the late 1990's, a limited edition (and what some would call a bootleg) of the score was issued to soundtrack specialty outlets by the Tsunami label in Germany. The Varèse Sarabande label mistakenly advertised its 2001 remastering as the first ever release of the music on CD; the Tsunami limited edition of the score, despite its less than official status, sold relatively well on the market for years. Unfortunately, Tsunami albums suffer from poor sound quality and their Cleopatra release was limited to 2222 numbered copies.

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To the credit of the Tsunami album, it didn't simply copy the straight contents of the LP; it offered several cues that had been previously unavailable on album at the time, making for a total of over 74 minutes of North's music on CD. The limited album also featured a uniquely designed jewel case, with the logo and other artwork actually painted onto the exterior of the front of the plastic jewel case (an extreme rarity). An intact and undamaged jewel case of this product is actually considered a collector's item by some of North's fans. In any case, the Tsunami release was rendered completely moot by the 2001 remastered edition of Cleopatra by Varèse Sarabande. For the 2001 album, the process of digging up the original masters of Cleopatra's music and arranging them into listenable cues was an incredible task. Even if you are no fan of the music, the impressive level of effort put into the care of this score is worth your notice. When North recorded Cleopatra, the composition was so complex that he had several different tapes of the guitars, strings, percussion, brass, etc, all made separately for final mixing at the end of the process. Much of the restoration required the careful piecing together of these raw elements using digital technologies, and, except for two or three wobbles (or slowing of tapes, causing the pitch of the music to become distorted), the sound quality is impressive. North's score is highlighted by its intimate string performances, guiding the two main themes for the two couples, and these moments feature particularly dynamic sound. More challenging are the fanfares, battles, and the overture and entr'acte, which sometimes reveal the age of their masters beyond digital correction. The mere quantity of music provided (two fully packed CDs) is more than enough compensation for these minor flaws, however. The packaging of the Varèse Sarabande album is superb, with more information from Jeff Bond about the movie, score, and concurrent documentary about Cleopatra than you could ever need. Indeed, this film and score are a story in and of themselves, and this kind of labor-intensive treatment for both is spectacular. Even if you're not an enthusiast of North's unconventional, percussive styles, the scope of this score and album warrant your interest. Price Hunt: CD or Download

    Score as Written for the Film: ****
    Music as Heard on the 1997 Tsunami Album: ***
    Music as Heard on the 2001 Varèse Album: *****
    Overall: ****

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 Track Listings (1997 Tsunami Album): Total Time: 74:27

• 1. Overture (2:45)
• 2. Caesar and Cleopatra (2:35)
• 3. The Head of Pompeius (2:58)
• 4. A Gift for Caesar (1:49)
• 5. The Palace of Alexandria (2:58)
• 6. The Fire Burns, The Fire Burns (2:03)
• 7. Taste of Death (1:46)
• 8. A Queen's Bedroom (4:59)
• 9. Conspirations and Conflicts (3:55)
• 10. Anthony and Calpurnia (2:05)
• 11. Caesar's Farewell (3:47)
• 12. Cleopatra Enters Rome (6:03)
• 13. Caesar's Assassination (4:38)
• 14. Epilogue (Act 1) (2:24)
• 15. Anthony and Cleopatra (2:20)
• 16. We Shall Meet in Egypt (2:40)
• 17. Cleopatra's Barge (3:02)
• 18. Anthony's Victory (3:22)
• 19. Love and Hate (2:17)
• 20. My Love is my Master (2:12)
• 21. Anthony's Farewell (2:40)
• 22. Grant Me An Honourable Way to Die (2:39)
• 23. Dying is Less than Love (4:31)
• 24. Anthony... Wait (3:59)

 Track Listings (2001 Varèse Sarabande Album): Total Time: 151:01

CD 1: (76:12)

• 1. Overture (2:42)
• 2. Main Title (2:51)
• 3. Pharsalia (1:17)
• 4. Caesar to Egypt (1:57)
• 5. The VIPs/King Ptolemy (0:59)
• 6. Pompey's Ring (2:53)
• 7. A Gift for Caesar (1:51)
• 8. Only Yesterday (1:31)
• 9. Epilepsy (3:20)
• 10. Great Library (2:05)
• 11. Moon Gate (4:20)
• 12. Taste of Death (1:47)
• 13. Sympathy (1:45)
• 14. Coronation (1:51)
• 15. Fertility (4:49)
• 16. Alexander's Tomb (3:45)
• 17. Calpurnia (1:59)
• 18. The Fire Burns/Son of Caesar (3:43)
• 19. Caesar's Departure (3:40)
• 20. Cleopatra Enters Rome (6:49)
• 21. By Divine Right (2:06)
• 22. Death in the Garden (1:44)
• 23. Caesar's Assassination (4:57)
• 24. Requiem (1:32)
• 25. Farewell (1:39)
• 26. Entr'acte (Caesar & Cleopatra) (2:32)
• 27. Hail Antony (3:12)
• 28. Isis (1:23)
• 29. Love Theme (Reprise) (0:30)
CD 2: (74:49)

• 1. Cleopatra's Barge (2:54)
• 2. Most Becoming (1:38)
• 3. Food (0:54)
• 4. Antony and Cleopatra in Tarses (3:38)
• 5. Bacchus (2:41)
• 6. Antony and Cleopatra's Love (3:10)
• 7. One Breath Closer (2:40)
• 8. Love and Hate (2:16)
• 9. Athens (2:37)
• 10. Cleopatra's Ambition (1:15)
• 11. War (0:44)
• 12. Interlude/Sea Battle (14:36)
• 13. My Love is My Master (4:17)
• 14. Two Heads (0:46)
• 15. Better Late than Never (2:37)
• 16. Cleopatra's Son/Antony's Camp (2:19)
• 17. Never Fear (3:16)
• 18. Grant Me an Honorable Way to Die (2:37)
• 19. Antony's Retreat/Transitions (2:02)
• 20. Dying is Less than Love (4:26)
• 21. Octavian the Victor (4:05)
• 22. Antony... Wait (3:55)
• 23. Epilogue (2:25)
• 24. Exit Music (Antony & Cleopatra) (2:26)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The 1997 Tsunami album contains information about both the score and film. The 2001 Varèse Sarabande album includes lengthy notes about the film, score, and documentary that accompanied the DVD set. The following press statement was released by Varèse in March of 2001:

    "Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison star in one of the most breathtaking epics in motion picture history - the story of the Queen of the Nile's tumultuous love affairs with Marc Antony and Julius Caesar. Directed by the great Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve), Cleopatra's astounding recreation of the eighteen years leading up to the formation of the Roman Empire makes for one of the most lavish productions in Hollywood history.

    Coming in April from Twentieth Century Fox is a deluxe three DVD set presenting a painstaking restoration of this enormous production. Newly produced for this set is a lavish two-hour documentary telling the turbulent story of the production of one of Hollywood's most infamous and expensive (nearly $400 million when adjusted for inflation) motion pictures. This documentary will also air repeatedly on AMC as part of a tremendous promotional push by the studio. Cleopatra is one of the studio's grandest productions and this DVD will be the ultimate presentation of the spectacular epic.

    Equally historic is this first ever presentation of over 150 minutes of Alex North's glorious and Academy Award-nominated film score. The composer's own score for Spartacus and Miklos Rozsa's magnificent Ben Hur are perhaps this score's only peers. Recorded with an orchestra of unprecedented size, it is truly one of the most extraordinary scores ever composed for a film. Cleopatra has never before been available on CD. An LP of recorded highlights of North's music spent some six months on the charts and was the country's number 2 album for three weeks. Now, for the first time ever, the complete original soundtrack from the film, digitally re-mastered and sounding better than ever, is presented on this elaborately packaged double CD.

    Cleopatra opened June 12, 1963. The film was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. Also receiving Oscar nominations for their work on the film were Rex Harrison (Best Actor) and Alex North (Best Score). Cleopatra was additionally nominated for Best Film Editing and Best Sound and took home Oscars for Cinematography, Art Direction - Set Decoration, Costume Design and Special Effects."

  All artwork and sound clips from Cleopatra are Copyright © 1997, 2001, Varèse Sarabande, Tsunami (Germany). The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 3/24/01 and last updated 9/22/08. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2001-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.