Ballet Egyptien (Alexandre Clément Léon Joseph Luigini)
Ronnie Munro And His Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton
Do you remember comedian Jimmy Durante at the piano, showing off his apparent familiarity with foreign names in music? It was during his recording of I’m The Guy Who Found The Lost Chord when he said he was playing Mozart’s Minuet, Have a Banana from “Carmen” and whistling the Sextet from the Luiginis, all at the same time! But it immediately alerted me to the composer Luigini, the French conductor, violinist and composer. He is remembered for just one composition Ballet Egyptien - and then only the Finale! And largely responsible for keeping Luigini’s music alive were the popular British music hall and vaudeville act in the middle of last century, Wilson, Keppel and Betty.
Wilson (born Manchester), Keppel (County Cork) and Betty Knox (Kansas). The highlight of their sand dance was a parody of postures from Egyptian tomb paintings and references to Arabic costume, following the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Audiences found their routine hilarious. You can still enjoy it on Google.
The quiet tense opening of Ballet Egyptian seems to be setting the scene for a waltz, more like building up to something dramatic. There is certainly a balletic feel to the music, which continues at some length with a pleasant melody keeping the listener guessing when the climax will hit town. Even when you expect it, Luigini craftily holds it back.
At last the sound of an oboe and violin hint that this lively dance associated with this talented trio is about to start. The famous tune suddenly kicks in, courtesy the lower strings, and we’re in a world of soft-shoe shuffle on sand. It’s a gentle rhythmic tune with controlled enthusiasm. It’s best to watch it with WK & B doing their stuff on a video. By the way there’s a slight Irish touch to the dance. This is followed by a little development when the melody speeds up to reach its conclusion.
Incidentally you might be interested in that “lost chord” Durante was on about. Nothing to do with Sullivan’s The Lost Chord of 1877 which was considered as the archetypal Victorian drawing-room ballad.
Perhaps you might like to try and analyse it from Durante’s disc, which you’ll find on Google.
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