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Julius Fucik and Entry of the Gladiators


Julius Fučík (July 18, 1872–September 25, 1916) was a prolific Czech composer and conductor of military band, with over 400 marches, polkas, and waltzes to his name. As most of his work was for military bands, he is sometimes known as the “Bohemian Sousa.”  Fučík was born in Prague, Bohemia, now the Czech Republic, on July 18, 1872, when Prague was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  As a student from 1885 to 1891 at the Prague Conservatory, he learned to play the bassoon with Ludwig Milde, violin with Antonín Bennewitz, and various percussion instruments, later studying composition under Antonín Dvořák. Upon graduation in 1891, he joined the band of the 49th Austro-Hungarian Regiment as a military musician and played bassoon for three years. He initially played in Krems by the Danube under under famed band conductor/composer Josef F. Wagner.

Fucik’s fondness for his instrument later led to substantial bassoon solos in some compositions, notably the character piece The Old Grumbler.  After that initial band service, Fučík left the army in 1894 to take up a position as second bassoonist at the German Opera Theatre in Prague, also playing in the Czech Wind Trio and later moving on to a theater-orchestra position in Zagreb. A year later he became the conductor of the Danica Choir in the Croatian city of Sisak. During this time, Fučík wrote a number of chamber music pieces, mostly for clarinet and bassoon.   In 1897, he made yet another career move and rejoined the army as the bandmaster for the 86th Austro-Hungarian Infantry Regiment based in Sarajevo, which was ultimately stationed in Budapest.

Shortly after, Fucik wrote his most famous piece, the Einzug der Gladiatoren or “Entrance of the Gladiators.”  Fučík’s interest in Roman history led him to name the march as he did. In 1910 Canadian composer Louis-Phillipe Laurendeau arranged a grossly accelerated version of “Entrance of the Gladiators” for a small band under the title “Thunder and Blazes.” It is in this version that the piece is most familiar, universally associated with the appearance of the clowns in a circus performance. In 1900, Fučík’s band was moved to Budapest where Fučík found there were eight regimental bands ready to play his compositions, but he also faced more competition to get noticed. Having more musicians at his disposal, Fučík began to experiment with transcriptions of orchestral works.

In 1910, Fučík moved again, returning to Bohemia where he became the bandmaster of the 92nd Infantry Regiment in Theresienstadt, now Terezin. At the time, the band was one of the finest in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Fučík toured with them leading the band on summer trips to small Bohemian towns and giving a season of winter concerts in Prague and Berlin to audiences of over 10,000 people.  In 1913, Fučík retired, married, and settled in Berlin where he started his own Czech-flavored band, the Prager Tonkünstler-Orchester, and a music publishing company, Tempo Verlag, to market his compositions. His early, active retirement was abbreviated as his fortunes began to wane with the outbreak of the First World War. Under the privations of the war, Fučík’s business failed and his health began to suffer. On September 25, 1916, Fučík succumbed to cancer and died in Berlin at the age of 44 and was buried in Vinohrady Cemetery in Prague.

Today Fucik, who wrotet almost 400 marches, polkas, waltzes, and other dances for band, many of which were orchestrated, as well as chamber pieces and sacred music, including a Requiem, holds a position in Czech musical culture that is an analogous to that of Johann Strauss’s reputation in Austria, and his marches are still played as patriotic music in the Czech Republic. His worldwide reputation rests primarily on two works, “The Florentiner March” popular throughout much of Europe and the “Entrance of the Gladiators” (Vjezd gladiátorů), which is universally recognized, often under the title “Thunder and Blazes,” as one of the most popular theme tunes for circus clowns.  Fučík was the brother of opera singer and bass player Karel Fučík and uncle of the journalist Julius Fučík, who was executed by the Nazi regime.

The following work by Julius Fucik is contained in my collection:

Entry of the Gladiators (or Thunder and Blazes).

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources


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