The musical “Galop” used in Circus Performances

The French spelling is “GALOP”

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

“In dance, the galop, named after the fastest running gait of a horse (see gallop), a shortened version of the original term galoppade, is a lively country dance, introduced in the late 1820s to Parisian society by the Duchesse de Berry and popular in Vienna, Berlin and London. In the same closed position familiar in the waltz, the step combined a glissade with a chassé on alternate feet, ordinarily in a fast 2/4 time. The galop was a forerunner of the polka, which was introduced in Prague ballrooms in the 1830s and made fashionable in Paris when Raab, a dancing teacher of Prague, danced the polka at the Odéon Theatre, 1840. In Australian bush dance, the dance is often called galopede.

The galop was particularly popular as the final dance of the evening. The “Post horn Galop” written by the cornet virtuoso Herman Koenig was first performed in London, 1844; it remains a signal that the dancing at a hunt ball or wedding reception is ended.

Numerous galops were written by the “Waltz King” Johann Strauss II. Dmitri Shostakovich employed a “posthorn galop” as the second, Allegro scherzo of his Eighth Symphony, 1943. Particularly famous is the “Devil’s Galop” by Charles Williams.

Some Galops were also written by Nino Rota. George Gershwin composed the galop “French Ballet Class for two pianos)” for his score to the film ‘Shall We Dance’.”

The Galop form as used in the American Circus

Almost all circus composers wrote a galop at some time during their circus careers. One has only to look at what the composers of circus music wrote to identify a galop. The form of the circus galop mimicked that of the circus march (see article on the “March”). Tempos varied between a “Fast” to a “Breakneck Speed” tempo.  The meter of most galops is 2/4 time. Interestingly, snare drummers often chose to play the drum part using straight 1/8th notes with few breaks in the pattern but with well-placed accents. Galops were often short in duration but if needed, would be played Da capo or Dal segno until the ringmaster blew the whistle ending the act.  Every now and then the musician actually had to watch the conductor to see what and when to repeat.  When the galop ended it was time for the windjammers to catch their breath before continuing with the next act’s music. Circus windjammers needed to develop plenty of endurance to perform the fast-paced music required of the circus performances.

The Function of the Galop in Circus Performances

The American Circus (as well as European Circuses) used galops in a variety of circumstances. Obviously, the acts using horses, particularly bareback riders or “rosinback riders,” as known by circus people, commonly used galops as part of the featured performance. Other animal acts also benefited from Galops, like dog acts.  Dogs would sometimes run at the end of their performance on top of the 42ft. diameter ring curb. So the Galop would be played to support this feature.  Another common use of the galop was for flying trapeze acts or “flyers” known by the circus folk.  The galop was used when as the ending to their act as they dropped to the safety net below as well as playoffs. Tumblers commonly ran and performed their tricks to galop music. It goes without question that any act needing a fast-paced musical style probably had a galop played as part of their act. Finally, Galops were applied as an “Entr’acte,” when playing off acts while new acts were getting ready to begin. Sometimes these playoffs were called “chasers.” The circus did not have a curtain like a stage show, so the music combined with some creative lighting production became the “curtain” for the ring(s).

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